Body Composition Testing
Separating Fat from Fiction
Why is Body Composition Testing Important?
Body composition can have a direct impact on your health, athletic performance, and even your life expectancy. Excess body fat is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states: “Evidence is now overwhelming that obesity, the excess storage of fat, has adverse effects on health and longevity.”
Many people think all body fat is bad for a person. This is untrue. In fact, the total body fat that a person has can be subdivided into three categories:
Essential Body Fat
Essential Fat is the minimum amount of body fat required for the body to ward off diseases and protect its internal organs from bruising.
Reserve Body Fat
Reserve Fat is additional body fat, above the Essential Fat, where the body stores energy. Having Reserve Fat has no negative impact on a person’s health.
Excess Body Fat
Excess Fat is additional body fat over and above the combination of Essential and Reserve body fat. Excess body fat is unhealthy and can lead to heart attack, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Level 1 Diagnostics’ Body Composition Testing utilizes Near-Infrared Technology (harmless light to make the measurement) for evaluating body composition. The advantages of using this test over other testing methods are:
- It is reliable and reproducible
- It is safe and non-invasive
- It evaluates all three categories of body fat: Essential, Reserve, and Excess Body Fat
- It is able to differentiate a reading of fat or muscle, unlike other body composition tests
Other Methods Available for Evaluating Body Composition:
Bio-Electrical Impedance Analyzers (BIA)
This technique sends low-level electrical currents through the body. The “impedance” to the flow of the electricity is a function of the hydration level of the body, how much water is in the body at that instant, and the amount of electrolytes in the body.
Since these two body parameters vary continuously during the day, according to the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), bio-electric impedance should only be used for measuring percent body fat when the following protocol is followed:
- No measurement within two hours of having eaten a meal.
- No measurement within four hours of having exercised.
- No measurement after using any hand lotion or similar types of conductive creams.
- No consumption of an alcoholic beverage for twenty-four hours.
- No measurement during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- No measurement of anyone who has a heart pacemaker.
- No measurement of anyone who has an internal heart defibrillator.
In addition to the above limitations, NIH also states that there is no proof of the safety of BIA on the fetus of pregnant women, and therefore, recommends no BIA measurements be performed.
The most commonly used low-cost method involves measuring the sum of skinfolds at various sites of the body.
There are two fundamental assumptions in developing skinfold caliper data:
The first is that the subcutaneous fat; i.e., the fat directly under the skin, is equal to 50% of the total fat of the body. (The other fat in the body is usually referred to as “intramuscular fat”— the type of “marbling” you see in steaks). This inherent 50/50 assumption appears to be reasonably valid in young adults. However, as people age, this assumption becomes less and less valid.
The second assumption is that the multiple body sites selected for the measurement of the skinfolds represent the average thickness of all the subcutaneous adipose.
To quote Henry Lukaski1: “Neither of these assumptions have been proven to be true. Despite the contention that subcutaneous fat makes up about half of the total body fat, there is no data to support this statement. Furthermore, because there is little information on the distribution of fat in the body of the population at large, the validity of using skinfold equation to predict body composition is restricted to populations from whom these equations were derived.”
“The measurement of skinfold thickness is made by grasping the skin and adjacent subcutaneous tissue between the thumb and the forefinger, shaking it gently to exclude underlying muscle and pulling it away from the body just far enough to allow the jaws of the caliper to impinge on the skin.”
The above procedure depends on the judgment and skill of the person performing the measurement. Therefore, skinfold calipers’ biggest problem is consistent and accurate readings. Which is why the test is a poor method of body composition measurement.
Level 1 Diagnostics’ Near-Infrared Body Composition Testing is the most accurate and easiest way to get a comprehensive body composition measurement.
About Level 1 Diagnostics
We have a significant problem in this country—heart disease. It is the number one killer in the United States, and early detection and prevention is the key to heart health.
Level 1 Diagnostics is dedicated to the early detection and prevention of cardiovascular disease. We have developed the “For the Young at Heart”® program using new testing technology that is simple and non-invasive.
There is testing for early detection of cancers and other diseases,
and now there is testing for the early detection of cardiovascular disease.
1 Henry Lukaski – American Society for Nutritional Sciences, 1997. Sarcopenia: Assessment of Muscle Mass