Friday 5 August 2016

Body Fat Scales - Do They Work?

I haven’t weighed myself in years. I stopped when I realised there was little value in doing so. Bathroom scales only tell you one thing – how much you weigh. They don’t tell you how that weight is distributed, so a reading can be misleading and not a great indicator of health.

If you recently started going to a gym and combining weights with cardio, for example, you will almost certainly weigh more now than you did before you started. That’s because you’ll be gaining muscle and losing fat – the former weighs more than the latter.

But I can guarantee one thing – you’ll be looking better for it. Hence my assertion that standard bathroom scales are not a great indicator of fitness or health – yet I bet most households still own a set and a lot of diet programmes still focus on weight loss!

In the past few years, though, there has been a greater focus on BMI (Body Mass Index), body fat percentages and muscle mass analysis, taken in conjunction with weight, as a true measure of health.  So it was only a matter of time before body composition bathroom scales started to dribble on to the market.

There are a number of such scales around and more on the horizon. As someone who’s had professional body composition tests done, the home versions intrigue me and for the past few weeks I’ve been trying out a set from Beets Blu Electronics.

Beets Blu Body Composition Smart Scale
The Beets Blu scales claim to measure weight, BMI, body fat percentage, lean body mass and bones percentage. They’re very attractive to look at – all shiny and black, with a brushed steel trim. There’s an LED display for instant measurements and a Bluetooth enabled app for more detailed readings and historical records.

The scales are easy to set up. Insert the 4 AAA batteries that come supplied, and download the app (Android or iOS). Next fill in some personal details in to the app including birth date, weight (kg, lb or st) and height (cms or ft).  Then simply step on the scales (hard surface only) and away you go (make sure you switch on Bluetooth).

The scales will ‘speak’ out body composition readings (it’s not very loud so I’d advise using a voice app to amplify), and automatically transfers the data to your phone.

The home screen displays today’s weight, plus fat, muscle and bone density percentages, as well as BMI. You can access a ‘plot settings’ screen from here to alter the graph data shown. Elsewhere, there’s a monthly totals page showing measurements by weeks, months and all-time. You can also set targets, and track multiple users.
The first question that sprung to mind was: how is the app calculating the body composition stuff? Professional systems hook you up to computers and require you to hold conductors in your hands for internal body readings. Here it’s just the scales you stand on doing the ‘magic’, plus some manual assessments such as deciding whether you have an athletic body or not.

Beets Blu say the scales use a method called Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis to measure body composition and refered me to this Wikipedia entry for further info. According to Wikipedia, BIA is commonly used but 'not a gold standard' and some question its accuracy.

I also compared the data with my latest professional test done in February. While body composition changes over time, there were some striking differences between the two sets of figures, most notably my body fat percentage – Beets Blu calculated 19.7% whereas my professional assessment score was 14.8%! When I switched off the athletic setting on the app manually, my body fat figure zoomed up to 22.3%!

Final thoughts

At home body composition scales are never going to compare with professional equipment. But if you are a fan of weighing yourself at home and considering upgrading to a set with body composition measurements, I’d take some of the readings as a guide rather than gospel.

The Beets Blu Body Composition Smart Scales cost £49.50 and are available from Amazon here.

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