What is Body Fat and How Do You Measure It?

Learn the definition of body fat for improved health

body fat definition
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Body fat is one of your body's main components. Essential body fat is necessary for your body to function. Excess body fat is where your body stores energy to use in case of starvation. Measuring body fat percent is a good way to see if you have too much body fat.

What Is Body Fat?

Dieters often want to get rid of body fat to slim down. But some body fat is important for your body to function properly.

This essential body fat is stored in your bones, organs, central nervous system and in your muscles. The amount of essential body fat needed is different for men and women.

According to the American Council on Exercise,  an adult man should have at least 2-5% of his total body weight to be fat for essential functions. Women need more fat for important reproductive processes. Healthy women should have a body fat of at least 10-13% for essential functions.

So what about the rest of the fat on your body? This nonessential fat is where excess energy is stored. This body fat is sometimes called excess fat. In addition to providing fuel for your body, this fat also protects your vital organs and provides insulation for your body in the cold.

How to Measure Body Fat

There are several different ways to estimate and evaluate the fat your body. Many people measure body fat percent (also called body fat percentage) to make sure they have the right amount.

Measuring body fat percent can be done in a clinical setting, with technology such as DEXA (DXA) scanning, BodPod or hydrostatic underwater weighing. Or you can do it at home with the use of a body fat scale.  Most body fat scales use bioelectrical impedance (BIA) technology to estimate your total body fat.

Healthy Body Fat Percent (Chart)

So how much total body fat should you have? In general, a healthy body fat percent for men is between 6-24%. And for women, total body fat percent should range between 14 - 31%.

This body fat chart provides typical percents for men and women based on data provided by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). 

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


How to Get Rid of Excess Body Fat

There are several different ways to get rid of unwanted body fat.

  • Combine diet and exercise.  Many smart dieters will reduce the calories they consume from food and also increase their daily physical activity to burn more calories with exercise.  Smart diet and exercise habits will also help you to keep body fat from coming back.
  • Surgical methods. Some medical procedures can help to reduce body fat. These procedures can be expensive, but allow you to target where you want to remove excess fat on your body.

Fat is important for a healthy body. But you don't want to have too much body fat if you want to stay healthy. Measure your fat on a regular basis and maintain a healthy body fat percent for long-term wellness.


Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Assessing Your Weight. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity . Accessed: December 19, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: December 19, 2015. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm

Shape Up America. Everything You Want to Know About Body Fat. Accessed: December 19, 2015. http://www.shapeup.org/bfl/basics1.html

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