Are you “Skinny Fat”?

First, what do I mean by “skinny fat”? I mean are you thin or of normal body weight (i.e. – have a Body Mass Index (BMI) <25 kg/m²) but still have an excess amount of body fat? If so, you would be considered “skinny fat” or “over fat”.

This is problematic due to the fact that just because a person is thin or of normal weight by appearance, does not mean that they are healthy or free from risks associated with excess adiposity. For example, high body fat percentages are associated with a poor lipid profile, which means elevated LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and decreased HDL (or “good”) cholesterol(abstract) , as well as decreased fitness test performance (abstract).

Data from NHANES (a large scale survey of the health of the American population) indicates that the average percent body fat of adults in America is 28% for men and 40% for women – which as you can see in the charts below is very high! Furthermore, and much more alarming is that higher body fat percentages were seen at lower BMIs (abstract)! Thus, even individuals who fall in to a normal-weight or overweight BMI category, may actually contain more fat than is desirable.

Below are the body fat percentage categories from the American College of Sports Medicine, so you can see where you stack up. Don’t know your body fat percentage? Volunteer to be a research subject with your local university’s nutrition and/or exercise science department since measures of body composition are typically performed.

ACSM % Body Fat Guidelines for Men:

Fitness Category

20-29 years

30-39 years

40-49 years

50-59 years

60+ years

Well Above Average

7.1 – 11.7

11.3 – 15.8

13.6 – 18

15.3 – 19.7

15.3 – 20.7

Above Average

11.8 – 15.8

15.9 -18.9

18.1 – 21

19.8 – 22.6

20.8 – 23.4

Average

15.9 – 19.4

19 – 22.2

21.1 – 24

22.7 – 25.6

23.5 – 26.6

Below Average

19.5 – 25.8

22.3 – 27.2

24.1 – 28.8

25.7 – 30.2

26.7 – 31.1

Well Below Average

≥ 25.9

≥ 27.3

≥ 28.9

≥ 30.3

≥ 31.2

 

ACSM % Body Fat Guidelines for Women:

Fitness Category

20-29 years

30-39 years

40-49 years

50-59 years

60+ years

Well Above Average

14.5 – 18.9

15.5 – 19.9

18.5 – 23.4

21.6 – 26.5

21.1 – 27.4

Above Average

19 – 22

20 -23

23.5 – 26.3

26.6 – 30

27.5 – 30.8

Average

22.1 – 25.3

23.1 – 26.9

26.4 – 30

30.1 – 33.4

30.9 – 34.2

Below Average

25.4 – 32

27 – 32.7

20.1 – 34.9

33.5 – 37.8

34.3 – 39.2

Well Below Average

≥ 32.1

≥ 32.8

≥ 35

≥ 37.9

≥ 39.3

There are several ways to assess body composition such as using a DXA machine, a bod pod, skinfold calipers, underwater weighing, or bioelectrical impedance. Each of these methods have pros and cons associated with them and some are more valid and reliable than others. I will discuss each of these methods in more detail in another post!

Do you regularly assess your body composition? What method(s) do you use?

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5 thoughts on “Are you “Skinny Fat”?

  1. Kristen @ Swanky Dietitian says:

    Great post! Often times people think skinny is healthy. I’d rather have more muscle on my body, look and feel strong, then be just thin.
    I have gotten my body fat done at work. We have a hand held device which isn’t the most accurate. I forget my number now, but is was definitely average..perhaps a bit higher. I’d love to do a DEXA scan or underwater weighing to really see. It’s very interesting to me.

  2. High Heels & Running Shoes says:

    Hi, great post! I measure my bf% regularly and although I roughly fit in the average category, I would love to lower it a little bit. I’ve been told various times that, considering the amount of exercise I do, my bf% should be lower and that it is strange that it is still so high. I’m pretty sure my diet is to blame for that…
    I really enjoyed your blog, keep it up!

    • Tanya says:

      Hey! Thanks for stopping by. If you think your bf is lower than the readings tell you it could have to do with the method you are using to estimate it. If you ever have the chance, I recommend getting a DXA scan or Bod Pod assessment. They tend to be the most accurate!

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