How is Body Fat Calculated at Home: Do it Yourself Methods

Body fat is an important health indicator and many factors affect it like age, gender, and body type.

Body weight that is too much or too little can be a major health challenge and that is why how body fat is calculated is very important to the health conscious community. 

How body weight is calculated

If you're very serious about maintaining an ideal weight then you'll be interested in ways to calculate body fat even at the comfort of your home. 

Most accurate body fat measures are found in research and medical settings and examples are DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) and (ADP) Air Displacement Plethysmography (ADP), at home there are still ways we can measure fat and this will be the focus of our article. 

Below are 4 ways to calculate body fat at Home

1. Skinfold calipers

This is the cheapest way. It is easy to use and can help measure body fat levels without employing expensive equipments and doesn't require specialized training.

It is a handheld tools that pinches and measures how thick the subcutaneous fat layer in different  parts of the body (abdomen, triceps, and thigh).

A 7 site approach is recommended to achieve best results with skin calipers. This involves obtaining skinfold measurements from 7 different areas of the body and all measurements must be on the same side. For instance, the triceps below the shoulder blade, the chest, mid axilla, just above the hip, abdomen and thigh.  

Some people prefer using the 3 site and 8 site approach so don't be surprised if you find articles on how body fat is calculated discussing them. 

To take these skinfold measurements you'll need assistance. 

The skinfold measurements are later summed up to determine the body fat percent. Researchers rely more on the summation of skinfold sites in millimeters than using popular equations for calculating body fat. 

Skinfold calipers have digital and manual types and vary in prices. It usually comes with a tape for measurement and a chart for body fat.

Although different studies has proven skin calipers as an accurate way to calculate body fat, they didn't fail to buttress the need for some knowledge of body anatomy and how accurate the measurements turn out depends on body fat levels, the ability to use the calipers, and some other factors.

2.Using Body circumference measurements.

Circumference measurement (CM) is another way body fat measurement can be done at home with ease.

This involves the use of a tape to measure specific body sites.

The measurements are then plugged into an equation for determining percentage of body fat.

It is a reliable method. The Defense Department use this metric to calculate body fat percentage for service members.

How to measure body fat using CM is simple, use a non-stretch tape and measure of anatomical site circumference thrice and measure. Record measurements obtained to the nearest half-inch.

The sites for measurement differ by gender.

In Women:

Start by measuring neck just below the voical cord and measure round.

The waist is measured where smallest waist circumference lies or where the natural waistline is situated 

At the hips measure the largest protruding part of the buttocks

In Men:

The neck is measured just below the voical cord and rounded up just like in women. 

The waist is measured at the navel and taken round.

Each site is measured thrice and is read parallel to the floor and the averages are taken which are later into an equation that includes the individual's height and used for calculating body weight. 

Below is what the equation looks like for women:

Percentage of body fat = 163.205 x log10 (waist measurement + hip measurement– neck measurement) – 97.684 x log10 (height) – 78.387

While the equation for men is as follows:

Percentage of body fat = 86.010 x log10 (abdomen measurement – neck neck measurement ) – 70.041 x log10 (height) + 36.76

Although appear simple, it requires taking accurate and precise measurements.

To get correct measurement you need to leave enough tension while trying your best to avoid indenting the skin.

To properly use this method some anatomy knowledge is needed to properly identify the landmarks. 

A study conducted in 2019 that involved 76 active military service members didn't find any significant variation calculating body fat using DEXA and CM. Like we know DEXA is one of the most accurate means for calculating body fat measures.

The difference only came when CM method was used for evaluating females with larger waist circumference and found to be less accurate showing that it can be affected by fat distribution. 

Regardless of this, CM method is one of the best approaches on how to calculate body fat in our homes due to its affordability and ease of usage.

3. Using Body fat scales

These are smart scales that can easily calculate or measure body composition at home.

They go a step further than traditional scales that are used for measuring body weight only. These scales combine FFI (foot-to-foot impedance) meter and weight scales.

FFI makes estimates of muscle mass and body fat using electric currents sent and responses to it. These responses vary between Muscle and fat, the difference in responses is what is used to measure body fat. 

This simple method for calculating body fat is not devoid of setbacks. 

A study in 2021 compared how accurate body weight measurements are using three smart scales in underweight, normal, and overweight adults to using DEXA and found that the scales underestimated the body fat. 

Also the accuracy of smart scales depends on the sample population's body composition that was used to train the scale at the time of manufacture.

Irrespective of the drawbacks, it is an easy method to get a general overview of your body fat percentage at home. 

4. Waist circumference

Waist circumference measurements can help you calculate your body fat levels and determine if you've accumulated excess or have too little. 

You already know that too much midsection fat increases your risk of some health diseases like diabetes, heart disease etc. Your waist circumference can easily identify the state of your midsection. 

To get your waist circumference is quite easy and can be done at home unlike other measurement methods, you can take the measurements alone without assistance by using a non stretch tape to measure round your midsection, the tape must be kept horizontal around your waist.

Avoid compressing your skin while keeping the tape measure snug.  Exhale properly and then measure your waist circumference. 

The bigger your waist circumference, the greater belly fat you have.

To remain healthy and reduce risk of certain diseases, the National Institutes of Health and the National Cholesterol Education Program have cut offs for waist circumference around ≥ 40.2 inches (102 cm) in men and ≥34.25 inches (88 cm) in women while the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends ≥ 37 inches (94 cm) for men and ≥ 31.5 inches (80 cm) for women.

Bear in mind that waist circumference normal range differs with ethnicity. For instance, Asians have lower waist circumference values than Europeans.

Also know that despite the ability of waist circumference to access how much fat you have stored in your midsection, it is not an ideal measurement of overall fat percentage. 


How to calculate body fat is important because it helps us access our health status and this measurements can be achieved at home using 4 methods discussed above.

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