What is a Body Composition Test?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 April 2020
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A body composition test refers to any method which is used to determine the ratio within a person's body of fat, protein, water, and tissues. The primary goal of these tests is to note the amount of fat in the body in comparison to other forms of matter. High levels of fat put a person at a higher risk for many health problems and a lower quality of life than those who have body fat levels within a healthy range. There are several methods that are currently used to figure out body composition, the most common being the body mass index, waist circumference measurements, and skin fold measurements.

The body mass index is one type of body composition test that is used by doctors, nutritionists, and individuals to determine how high the risk for some health problems may be. To perform this test, a person must multiply his or her weight in pounds by 703. That number must then be divided by his or her height in inches, and the resulting number must also be divided by his or her height in inches. If the final number is below 25, then this indicates a healthy body composition. Numbers above 30 indicate a severe problem with weight and fat levels and the potential for health problems later in life.

Although flawed, the body mass index is currently one of the more accurate ways to determine body composition in terms of health. Things that may make the test inaccurate include those with especially large body frames, meaning they have wider hips and broader shoulders than average. If the body mass index is thrown off for these or other reason, then another body composition test can be used.

Another commonly used body composition test requires the person's waist to be measured and then compared to his or her hips. There is no set number for a person's waist or hips, but the waist should be much smaller in proportion to the hips. If not, this indicates a high level of belly fat. Fat around the middle of the body is considered much more dangerous than fat which accumulates around the hips and thighs. This is primarily because most vital organs are found in the torso, and too much fat can eventually lead to fatty organs.

Skin fold measurements are another type of body composition test that may be taken, although this is generally less accurate in terms of predicting one's health than the previous two tests. This test is done with a device which pinches the fat on a specific body part, often the arms, for it to be measured. Although this is handy in determining which areas of the body may need the most exercise and strength training, it is not accurate in determining how overweight or healthy one is. For instance, someone may have fatty thighs or arms but still be within his or her target weight or have very little belly fat.

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