Body fat scales reviews

Body fat scales can be a better indicator of overall health than their conventional cousins. CHOICE weighs up the options.
 
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01 .Introduction

weightscales_340_232

Test results for 12 bathroom scales that measure body fat percentage as well as weight

All these scales tend to under-read body fat percentage; in the worst cases, this could make you think you’re much healthier than you really are.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, training for fitness or simply keeping track of your physical health, the trusty bathroom scales can help you monitor your progress. But weight is only one factor in determining your health. It’s more important to know your body composition – your lean muscle mass and how much fat you’re carrying.

We assessed body fat scales on:

  • How they perform against underwater weighing (UWW), regarded as one of the best methods for determining a person’s body fat
  • How easy they are to use
  • Their level of accuracy
  • How sensitive they are to change

Please note: this information was current as of December 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands and Models tested

  • HoMedics Healthstation SC540
  • Homemaker SYE-2007D1
  • Modern Living EF 138-21
  • Omron HBF400
  • Oregon Scientific GR101
  • Propert 3042
  • Soehnle Body Balance Shape F4 63161
  • Tanita UM-016 (B)
  • The Biggest Loser HC10026
  • Visage Body Analyzing 4527 (A)
  • Weight Watchers WW35CHA
  • Weight Watchers WW115A

(A) In ALDI stores again April 2010; similar model in store January 2010.
(B) Discontinued. Replaced by model UM-051.

 
 

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Body fat scales result table
Product Overall score (%) Body fat score (%) Ease of use score (%) Weight accuracy score (%) Weight sensitivity score (%) BMI Goals displayed Other body composition (water, bone, muscle) User profiles Price ($)
Soehnle Body Balance Shape F4 63161
www.tradepoint.net.au
7870808590  Water / muscle / diet / correct balanceW, M8170
Visage Body Analyzing 4527 (A)
www.aldi.com.au
7870759390   W, B, M1020
Propert 3042
www.propert.com.au
7770809070  Daily kCal requiredW, M1270
Oregon Scientific GR101
www.oregonscientific.com.au
7660809390 W 200
Tanita UM-016 (B)
www.tanitaaustralia.com.au
7660809390     99
Omron HBF400
www.omronhealthcare.com.au
7460808390 W 170
Homemaker SYE-2007D1
www.kmart.com.au
7270658870   W1050
Weight Watchers WW35CHA
www.conair.com
7270657890    1070
HoMedics Healthstation SC540
www.homedics.com.au
7060708870  Daily kCal requiredW, B, M12100
Modern Living EF138-21
www.target.com.au
6860658570   W870
Weight Watchers WW115A
www.conair.com
6170556530  Goal weight / compares previous and current dataW, B4100
The Biggest Loser HC10026
www.kmart.com.au
5950756530  Daily kCal requiredW, B, M440

Table notes

Overall score This is made up of:

  • Body fat: 40%
  • Ease of use: 30%
  • Weight accuracy: 20%
  • Weight sensitivity: 10%

Price Recommended retail, as of August 2009.

(A) In ALDI stores again April 2010; similar model in store January 2010.
(B) Discontinued. Replaced by model UM-051.

How we test

Body fat Our test is carried out at the University of Sydney’s Exercise and Sport Science laboratory. Eight CHOICE volunteers (five males and three females) are weighed using underwater weighing (UWW), regarded as one of the best methods for determining a person’s body fat. It measures the weight of water displaced when someone is submerged, and uses this value (together with dry weight, height and residual lung volume) to calculate body density, from which body fat percentage can be derived.

The person is weighed first on a normal calibrated scale, then again in a special underwater scale. Because bone and muscle are denser than water, someone with more bone and muscle mass will weigh more in water than on land and so will have a higher body density and lower percentage of body fat. Conversely, fat is less dense, so someone with more fat will be lighter in water.

In the same session, the volunteers are weighed on each of the scales. The average difference in percentage body fat between UWW and that measured by the scales is calculated and scored. A score of 70% indicates the scales were within 3-5 percentage points of the UWW measurement (e.g. for a person with body fat percentage of 30%, the scales gave an average reading between 25% and 27%); a score of 50% indicates they were within 7-9 percentage points.

Ease of use Our CHOICE tester, Norbert Suto, assesses the ease of reading the display, programming user data into the scales, subsequent use (measuring body fat and weight) and foot placement/stability.

Weight accuracy He records how accurately the scales measure weight, using calibrated 60kg and 100kg weights. These measurements are combined with the weight measurements from the laboratory test to determine overall weight accuracy.

Weight sensitivity Starting from a weight of 20kg, he measures how sensitive the scales are to incremental changes of 100g.

78% Soehnle Body Balance Shape F4 63161


SoehnlePrice $170

Good points 

• Good body fat accuracy.
• Very good weight accuracy.
• Very easy to use.
• Measures water and muscle compositions.
• Can be used on carpet.

Bad points
 
• Data cannot be recalled after weighing.

 78% Visage Body Analyzing 4527 BestBuy_100


VisagePrice $20

Good points
 
• Good body fat accuracy.
• Excellent weight accuracy.
• Easy to use.
• Measures water, bone and muscle compositions.

Bad points
 
• Data cannot be recalled after weighing.
• Thin sensor pads can hinder good foot placement.

 

77% Propert 3042


PropertPrice $70

Good points
 
• Good body fat accuracy.
• Excellent weight accuracy.
• Very easy to use.
• Measures water and muscle compositions.

Bad points
 
• Data cannot be recalled after weighing.

About the rest

 

  • TanitaThe Tanita is OK at measuring body fat, but its screen scrolls very quickly and the data can’t be recalled once the display shuts off.




  • OmronThe Omron is OK at measuring body fat and is generally easy to use, but is easy to switch on accidentally and doesn’t switch off automatically.




  • 0regonThe Oregon Scientific is OK at measuring body fat and its wireless display unit is a good feature, but the data scrolls quickly (although it can be recalled after weighing).




  • HomemakerThe Homemaker has good body fat accuracy, but its small sensor pads can make it difficult to get good foot contact, and its display scrolls quickly and can’t be recalled.




  • Weight Watchers WW35CHAThe Weight Watchers WWW35CHA has good body fat accuracy but its small sensor pads can make it difficult to get good foot contact, and its display scrolls quickly and can’t be recalled.




  • HomedicsThe Homedics is OK at measuring body fat but its display scrolls quickly and can be hard to read.




  • Modern LivingThe Modern Living is OK at measuring body fat but has small sensor pads that can make it difficult to get good foot contact, and its display scrolls quickly and can’t be recalled.




  • Weight Watchers WW115AThe Weight Watchers WW115A has good body fat accuracy, but is complicated to program. Its small sensor pads can make it difficult to get good foot contact, and its display scrolls quickly and can’t be recalled.




  • The Biggest LoserThe Biggest Loser has mediocre body fat accuracy, and its display scrolls quickly with lots of data which can be hard to read.




How to use them

As with conventional scales, it’s best to measure yourself regularly and record the results rather than rely on one-off or occasional measurements.

• Make sure your feet are bare and clean for good contact with the scales’ sensor pads.
• Put the scales on a hard, level floor.
• Don’t take a reading immediately after waking, after a meal, or for 24 hours after excessive exercise or alcohol intake. Your body’s water content could be uneven or atypical, which will make the reading unreliable.
• Measure yourself at the same time of day under the same conditions.

All models on test tend to under-read body fat percentage, so don’t take the displayed values as absolute truth. The best ones under-read by about 3-5%, so, if they say your body fat percentage is 25%, it’s likely to actually be 28% or even 30%. Nevertheless, they’re still good for tracking your body’s change over time.

How they work

Body fat scales use bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA) to analyse your body composition.

There are more accurate ways of measuring body fat, such as underwater weighing and X-ray absorptiometry, but these are much less convenient as they require specialised equipment and expertise.

In BIA, a very low electrical current is sent through your body via your feet. The current is harmless and too low to be felt. However, all the tested models' instructions warn they aren't suitable for people with pacemakers as the scales' electrical current could interfere with the pacemaker. Many also warn the readings can be unreliable for children, athletes and bodybuilders, people with metal plates or screws in their bodies and pregnant women.

Tissue containing a lot of water, such as muscle, lets the current through easily, but fat contains comparatively little water, so it resists the current – the higher the impedance, the more fat there is in your body. The scales use that data, together with personal data you enter such as your height, age, sex and fitness level, to calculate your body-fat percentage.

What to look for

Display This should be big and clear so it’s easy to read when standing on the scales. The Oregon Scientific has a wireless display unit that can be mounted on the wall for easier viewing. 0regon_GA101

Displayed data should be easy to understand and stay on screen long enough to read easily. Several of the scales on test flash the information past quickly, so it’s hard to follow. Ideally, you should be able to redisplay the data without needing to weigh yourself again.

Controls These should be clearly labelled and easy to use. Programming the scales should be straightforward.

User profiles There should be enough profiles for all household members who will regularly use the scales. A “guest” profile can be handy for visitors who want to use the scales but don’t need their profile stored permanently.

Instructions These should be easy to understand, with useful diagrams and advice on how to interpret your results.

Weight only If you want the scales to behave like simple weight scales and only display your weight, a “weight only” default setting is handy. All the scales have this except the Tanita, for which you need to select this option each time.

Usable on carpet Useful if you don’t have hard floors. Scales don’t generally measure weight effectively when placed on carpet; the Omron, Oregon Scientific, Soehnle and Tanita claim to be usable on these floors, but in this test only the Oregon Scientific and Tanita were accurate.

Other features Many of the models on test display other information such as BMI and body composition information such as muscle mass, bone mass and water, which could be useful if you’re trying to build up muscle, for example. Some also display goals that are based on your personal information (age, height and sex) and measured weight and body fat (such as a suggested goal weight or daily kilocalorie intake).

Body mass index

Body mass index (BMI) is often used by health professionals to assess whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. It’s your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres.

For example, if you weigh 65kg and are 1.65m tall, your BMI is 65 divided by 2.7225 (the square of 1.65), or 23.9. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight; 18.5 – 24.9 is normal; 25 – 29.9 is overweight; and 30 and over is obese. So in this case, a BMI of 23.9 would be considered healthy. The Results table indicates which scales give a BMI reading.

While BMI is a better indicator of health than weight alone, it’s far from perfect. It was originally developed as a statistical tool for analysing populations and not intended for individuals. The BMI categories don’t allow for very muscular individuals; a person with lots of lean muscle and low body fat will be heavy for their height and could be classed as overweight or obese. Similarly, some people may have a BMI that indicates they’re healthy when in fact they have too much body fat and little lean tissue.

You should only use BMI as a general guide to your state of health. Accurate analysis of your body fat percentage, measured over time, is more useful.


Healthy body fat ranges

Healthy body fat percentages vary considerably for from person to person. Factors such as age, sex and ethnicity all have an effect on what amount of body fat is right for an individual. The figures in this table can be used as a general guide. Very fit people, particularly elite athletes, may have lower body fat percentages than these.

body_fat_ranges
Source: Gallagher et al, Am Clin Nutr. 2000; 72:694-701; based on NIH/WHO BMI Guidelines (healthy weight ranges) for whites.

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