Percent Body Fat—Definition and Examples

what is body fat percent
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Percent body fat is the amount of fat on your body compared to fat-free mass. Exact body fat percentage cannot be precisely determined, but several methods can be used to estimate the number. These include the use of calipers to measure skinfold thickness, bioelectrical impedence (BIA) or underwater (hydrostatic) weighing.

Examples: Working toward a percent body fat measurement between 14% and 17% is an ideal goal for a healthy adult male.

Also known as: body fat percentage, body fat percent

Percent Body Fat Definition

The definition of body fat percent is the relative amount of fat on your body compared to the amount of fat free mass. Fat free mass includes internal organs, bone, muscle, water and connective tissue.

There are different kinds of body fat. Subcutaneous fat is located underneath the skin. This kind of fat is located all over your body and is important for your body to function properly.  You may also have visceral fat. Visceral fat is located around your organs and is sometimes called "belly fat." Visceral fat is often identified by health experts as more dangerous because having too much of it can increase your risk for heart disease and other conditions.

So how much total body fat should you have? Many people use body fat percent as an indicator of health and fitness. But more fat is not always bad and less fat is not always good.

Some body fat is required for overall health. It plays an important role in protecting internal organs, providing energy, insulating your body and regulating hormones. But too much body fat can cause problems. Excess total body fat is linked to an increased risk for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

How to Test Percent Body Fat

To find out if you have too much body fat, you can get your percent body fat tested. Methods to test your body fat percent include skin calipers, bioelectrical impedance (BIA), BodPod, DEXA scans or underwater testing. Both the Bodpod and DEXA are often used in medical or clinical settings as they are considered to be highly accurate. But underwater weighing is still considered to be the gold standard for testing body fat percent.

You can also estimate body fat percent using body measurements such as abdomen circumference, hip circumference and height. 

Percent Body Fat Calculation for Women

Body density (BD) = 1.168297 - (0.002824 x abdomen) + (0.0000122098 x abdomen2) - (0.000733128 x hips) + (0.000510477 x height) - (0.000216161 x age) 

Percent body fat = (495/BD) - 450

Percent Body Fat Calculation for Men

Body density (BD) = 1.21142 + (0.00085 x weight) - (0.00050 x iliac) - (0.00061 x hip) - (0.00138 x abdomen) 

Percent body fat = (495/BD) - 450

Is Your Percent Body Fat Normal?

Normal body fat percents are different for men and women. In addition, some sources even say that body fat percent norms should change with age. But other sources say that age should not be a factor when comparing your body fat to others.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) provides norms for percent body fat in both men and women. 

ACE Body Fat Percent Norms for Men and Women
Essential Fat10-13%2-5%

If your body fat percent is too high, you can take steps to decrease your body fat with diet and exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight and healthy body composition is important for good health.

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