A Guide to Body Fat Percentage

Medically Reviewed By Micky Lal, MA, CSCS,RYT
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Your body fat percentage varies based on sex, age, and body type. Body composition can also be an indicator of your overall health.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to the sex assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

This article will discuss body fat percentage, ways to calculate it, and include tables for body fat percentage ranges for females and males. It will also discuss the limitations of these calculations.

What is body fat percentage?

Female measuring her waist with a tape measure
Igor Alecsander/Getty Images

Your body composition or body fat percentage is the amount of fat in your body compared to lean tissue. Lean tissue includes:

  • muscles
  • bones
  • body water
  • organs

Though your weight may indicate how healthy you are, it does not tell the whole story. No matter your weight, the higher your body fat percentage, the more you may be at risk for health-related issues, such as:

Where most of your body fat is also makes a difference. Carrying excess fat around the abdomen increases your risk of diabetes, heart and circulatory disease, and cancer.

People often confuse body fat percentage with body mass index (BMI). They are separate measurements. BMI is measured by taking your weight in kilograms (kg) and dividing it by your height in meters squared. The limitation of BMI is that it does not take age and sex into account.

Read more about BMI.

How to calculate body fat percentage

There are many ways to measure your body fat percentage. However, keep in mind that these are all estimates and not exact calculations.

Skinfold calipers

Skinfold calipers measure the layer of fat just under the skin or the subcutaneous fat. This is done at specific locations on your body.

To measure your body fat percentage, check on three areas:

  • chest
  • abdomen
  • thighs

Pinch the skin to pull the muscle away from the fat. Measure that fold with the calipers. Be sure to measure on the same side each time. The recommendation is to take the average of two measurements in each location. You can then input them into an online calculator that will give you your body fat percentage.

The easiest way to use calipers, however, is simply using them to monitor your body fat over time. If the thickness of your skinfolds is going down, that means you are losing fat.

Calipers are one of the least expensive and easiest ways to measure body fat.

Body circumference

Measuring your body circumference is an easy to perform and highly accessible way of calculating body fat. There are different ways you can use body circumference.

Waist circumference

This is a way to check whether you are carrying excess fat in the abdominal area. For an accurate reading, measure your waist with a tape measure at the midpoint between the bottom of your ribs and your hips. This is just above the belly button.

When done properly, this measurement is highly accurate. Keep in mind you can have a body fat percentage that is in the healthy range and still carry excess fat in your abdomen. This still puts you at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Waist-to-hip ratio

This measurement compares the ratio between your waist circumference and your hip circumference. To calculate this ratio using a tape measure:

  • Measure your waist midway between the bottom of your ribs and your hips.
  • Measure your hip circumference around the widest part of your buttocks.
  • Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference.

The higher the ratio, the more fat around your abdominal area. This is often referred to as an apple shape.

Waist-height ratio

A 2020 study showed that waist-height ratio (WHtR) is one of the best ways of measuring visceral fat. There is an association between visceral fat and cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

To measure your WHtR:

  • Use a string or tape measure to measure your height.
  • Fold the string in half.
  • Check to see whether it fits around your waist.

If the string does not fit around your waist, you are carrying excess abdominal fat and may be at an increased risk for diabetes and other health-related issues.

Other body fat percentage measurements

Other ways to measure your body fat percentage typically involve more equipment. These include:

  • Hydrostatic weighing: This involves getting your weight while underwater and calculating your fat based on your density. While this is a highly accurate way of calculating body fat percentage, it involves specialized equipment and is often costly.
  • Bioelectrical impedance: This involves smart scales or handheld devices to measure your body fat. However, it is not always the most reliable source for making these calculations due to many variables, like dehydration.
  • Air displacement (Bodpod): Bodpod technology is similar to underwater weighing. The difference is that Bodpods use air instead of water. The accuracy of air displacement is similar to hydrostatic weighing but may be less expensive.
  • Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA): DEXA uses specialized X-rays to measure levels of tissue density. While highly accurate in calculating body fat percentage, it is also expensive.

Learn 15 ways to lose belly fat.

Body fat percentage table for females

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) provides ranges of body fat percentage by age group and sex.

Ages 20-29

CategoryPercentage
Very lean11-14%
Excellent15-16%
Good16-20%
Fair20-23%
Poor24-28%
Very poor30-38%

Ages 30-39

CategoryPercentage
Very lean11-13%
Excellent15-16%
Good17-21%
Fair22-24%
Poor25-29%
Very poor31-39%

Ages 40-49

CategoryPercentage
Very lean11-15%
Excellent16-18%
Good19-23%
Fair24-27%
Poor28-31%
Very poor33-39%

Ages 50-59

CategoryPercentage
Very lean13-16%
Excellent19-20%
Good22-26%
Fair27-30%
Poor30-33%
Very poor34-39%

Ages 60-69

CategoryPercentage
Very lean13-17%
Excellent20-22%
Good23-27%
Fair28-30%
Poor31-34%
Very Poor35-40%

Ages 70-79

CategoryPercentage
Very lean13-16%
Excellent18-21%
Good23-27%
Fair27-30%
Poor30-33%
Very poor36-40%

Body fat percentage table for males

The ACSM provides the following ranges for males based on age groups.

Ages 20-29

CategoryPercentage
Very lean4-6%
Excellent7-10%
Good11-14%
Fair15-18%
Poor19-23%
Very poor25-33%

Ages 30-39

CategoryPercentage
Very lean7-10%
Excellent12-14%
Good15-18%
Fair19-21%
Poor22-25%
Very poor26-34%

Ages 40-49

CategoryPercentage
Very lean9-13%
Excellent15-17%
Good18-20%
Fair21-23%
Poor24-26%
Very poor27-35%

Ages 50-59

CategoryPercentage
Very lean11-14%
Excellent17-19%
Good20-22%
Fair23-24%
Poor25-28%
Very poor29-36%

Ages 60-69

CategoryPercentage
Very lean12-16%
Excellent18-20%
Good21-23%
Fair23-25%
Poor26-28%
Very poor29-37%

Ages 70-79

CategoryPercentage
Very lean13-15%
Excellent17-20%
Good21-22%
Fair23-25%
Poor25-28%
Very poor29-37%

Limitations of body fat percentage

One of the biggest limitations to body fat percentage is that the calculations are only estimates. There is no set way to get completely accurate measurements of body fat.

Another limitation of body fat percentage calculations is that they are easy to miscalculate if you do not know exactly how to measure the areas on your body with the calipers or tape measure. The other ways to measure that involve specialized equipment that may also be difficult to find, and they can also be expensive.

Summary

Body fat percentage is a useful calculation to show your overall health. Weight is only one aspect of your overall health. It is important to keep an eye on your weight, but it does not tell the whole story.

There are other ways to calculate your body fat percentage. The easiest one tends to be skinfold calipers. However, other ways are done by experts and that use specialized equipment. Their limitations are that they may be more expensive.

The overall limitation of body fat percentage is that no matter how it is calculated, it is still an estimate.

Speak with your doctor about body fat percentage and what impact your calculation could have on your health.

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Medical Reviewer: Micky Lal, MA, CSCS,RYT
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. About adult BMI. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html
  2. ACSM's guidelines for exercise testing and prescription, 10th edition. (2019). https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/publications-files/getp10_tables-4-4-4-5-updated.pdf
  3. NASM's body fat calculator. (n.d.). https://www.nasm.org/resources/body-fat-calculator
  4. Parente, E.B., et al. (2020). Waist-height ratio and waist are the best estimators of visceral fat in type 1 diabetes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7596092/
  5. Swainson, M.G., et al. (2017). Prediction of whole-body fat percentage and visceral adipose tissue mass from five anthropometric variables. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6516/fe92aa35ea21cf1754f1c888ab08ffad05ea.pdf
  6. What's the best way to measure body fat? (n.d.). https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/weight/best-way-to-measure-body-fat