Learn about body fat scales and why it is important to know your body fat percentage. Find out how body fat scales get this and more information and which do it best by checking out our top scales picks.
Knowing how much you weigh at any given moment is an important component to the weight loss process. You have to know if you are making progress and if so, how much progress you are making. In this way, you can see what works, what doesn't and if you need to dial things up. However, in the new digital age, information is everything; the more information, the better.
Now, instead of simple weight tracking, the newest generation of scales can measure several different metrics including body fat percentage and thus, Body Mass Index (BMI).
With so much more information, you, your trainer or your physician can make more personalized and effective diet and exercise regimens. You can even upload this data to the internet and other apps in some cases to help track growth and spot problems.
All of this comes from a simple bathroom scale that resembles your old mechanical one, but now it is powered by an internal computer and sensitive electronic sensors.
To help you make sense of all of this, let's go over what information these body fat scales are collecting, what this information means, how these scales collect this information and which scales on the market today do the best job of collecting it, according to our findings.
Body Fat? BMI? What Are They And Why Should I Care?
In the old days, weight loss success was measure in simple weight by people who did not know any better. A higher number of pounds was bad, fewer pounds was good. Then people finally realized that, unsurprisingly, everyone is different.
A healthy weight for someone may be an unhealthy weight for another and vice versa. This fact is due to differences in both height and body fat percentage.
Two people could weigh the same, yet one could be exceptionally healthy, and the other could be morbidly obese. The difference is body fat percentage or how much of your body is made up of fat cells as opposed to how much is muscle mass. Higher body fat percentage of your body can lead to a variety of health risks including:
- Heart disease
- Complications with pregnancy
Simply put, being heavy is not necessarily unhealthy, but having a high percentage of body fat is. You will often hear some people claiming that "muscle is heavier than fat," but this is a fallacy that is equivalent to saying "rock is heavier than metal." The statement is useless without context because the amount is not known.
What is accurate to say is that muscle is more dense than fat, meaning that you can fit the same weight in muscle in a more compact space as opposed to fat. Therefore, two people may weigh the same, but one person may have higher muscle mass and as such be slimmer and more healthy.
The other person would have a higher body fat percentage and thus be larger and less healthy despite weighing the same
The Body Mass Index (BMI) was created as a way to measure healthy weight by comparing weight to height. For example, two people could be the same weight, but one person scores "better" on the BMI because they are taller. The idea is that a taller person has more bone, muscle, connective and soft tissue than a shorter person and therefore should weigh more.
The problem is, this system does not take into account why the person weighs what they do. A taller person with a low weight would score high on the BMI, but perhaps it is because of unsafe dieting or drug abuse. Low weight may mean low muscle mass as well as body fat percentage, both of which can be unhealthy.
The moral is, BMI is not an accurate or reliable way to measure health, but it is a decent “ballpark” measurement.
How Do Body Fat Scales Measure Body Fat And BMI?
These new scales were designed to help you keep track of body fat percentage with some clever if inaccurate methods of testing. The technology is fast and convenient but, as we will see, it is not precise.
Body fat scales measure the fat content of your body with electricity. A harmless electric current is sent through one of your feet as you step onto the scale. This current travels up your leg to your pelvis, where it then loops down the other leg back into the scale to complete the circuit.
The scale times this process and measures the resistance it encountered. The idea is that fat and muscle affect electricity differently and slow it down at different rates. Measuring the resistance should give a clear picture of how much fat and muscle the current had to pass through. Several problems arise with this idea, however.
First, the current stops at the hips and measures the fat in your lower half only. As you may have observed on yourself or others, humans store a lot of fat just above the hips, in the belly.
Other factors that affect accuracy include hydration, exercise routine and even dampness of your feet. Most body fat scales have been shown by studies to be off on their measurements by up to 34 percent.
However, there is good news. While not very accurate, these scales (the good ones anyway) are consistent. Consistency means you will get the same reading if you try it three times.
If you exercise a lot of fat off your body and check the scale, it will give you an accurate idea of the change in body fat if not the amount. Therefore, you can track your progress accurately with these scales which, after all, is the point.
A body fat scale calculates your BMI, but so can you and countless apps and websites. It is a simple calculation based on the ratio of your height to weight. As mentioned above, it is not an exceptionally effective metric of success for weight loss, but these scales often include it anyway.
The Best Body Fat Scales Reviewed: How We Chose Our Ratings
When choosing our ratings for the best scales available, our criteria list was surprisingly short, but that does not mean there were not important differences between the scales. The areas we looked at were few in number, but this just means they have more weight.
Accuracy and Consistency
A scale’s purpose is to tell you, with great accuracy, how much you weigh. Surprisingly, not all scales on the market do this, not even pricey electronic ones. The ones that failed to report weight accurately were of course not even considered for the list.
More important perhaps was how consistent and reliable the scale was. As mentioned above, accurate body fat percentage measuring is not yet possible with in-home technology, but consistent readings are. If the change that was measured in your body fat was accurately measured, it scored quite high as this was the most important criteria for us.
Connectivity And Features
These days, the effectiveness of an electric scale depends on how much information it gives you and what you can do with it. If you wanted simple readouts, mechanical scales are cheaper. But the scales we looked at all had either internet or Bluetooth capability, which allowed data to be uploaded to apps or websites and tracked to help you measure progress. More features (that worked) means a higher rating.
Convenience And Ease of Use
While not directly tied to usefulness, quality of life improvements did affect scores if everything else was equal. These miscellaneous features included things like price, platform size, readout size and readability, aesthetics, automatic activation and profile settings. Profile settings allow the scale to track the progress of multiple users and retain data.
The Best Body Fat Scales Reviewed
As there are so few criteria to judge scales by (accuracy being the most important), the best body fat scale out there is probably the best for most people. However, you might prefer a different model or our top pick might not be available to you. Fortunately, there are many models to choose from that are not too different from one another.
The Nokia Body+ used to be known as the Withings Smart Body Analyzer WS-50 until Nokia bought the brand and phased it out. However, in mid-2018 Nokia announced that it would be selling the brand back to the co-founder of Withings. So, bafflingly, keep an eye out because this scale may revert to its old name in the future.
This scale does it all and does it with style. It collects and displays BMI, body fat percentage, weight, resting heart rate and even air quality of your home. It has special modes for pregnancy and athletes in training and even shows you the weather. It has powerful profile settings that recognize different users as soon as they step on.
Once you gather all your data, you can send it to one of over 100 fitness apps, including the official Nokia companion, to track your progress. Throw in a large platform, easy to read screen and 18-month battery life, and you have the total package. It's hard to find a flaw with this one; it even looks great for an affordable price.
This body fat scale does not collect as much data as our top pick and has a few other problems. However, it is a solid and accurate scale that is affordable, elegant and best of all, created by a great company. It measures all the data points that you would want and uploads them to whatever app you use under your profile.
The profile integration is not as intuitive as our top pick, as it has problems with determining different users if their weights are too similar and they don’t have distinct app profiles on their smartphones.
Also, those with pacemakers and other electronic implants cannot use this scale. These two drawbacks exclude some people from using this scale, but most people will be highly satisfied.
The manufacturers, Greater Goods, use only manufacturing sites and factories that are certified and meet international standards of humane working environments; no child labor or unfairly paid workers make their products.
A portion of each scale's purchase also goes to non-profits working to end child trafficking and help survivors. So you are paying half the price of the Nokia Body+, and your money is going to a good cause.
For those greatly invested in the Fitbit group of products, of which there are many, this scale may be the one to get. Designed by Fitbit to connect and work with their apps and device, this scale fits more or less seamlessly in. It looks great and is accurate and consistent.
It also has support for third-party apps if you are not married to Fitbit. Also, like the Nokia Body+, it can track up to eight profiles accurately.
While it does much of what our top pick can do, it falls flat in a couple of areas. It takes a frustratingly long time to see results because the scale works slow compared to others. It also lacks small but noticeable features like support for pregnant women.
These drawbacks coupled with the higher price means that the Nokia soundly defeats this scale. Still, if Fitbit is your thing this scale is still worth looking at.
If you are on a tight budget and aren't too concerned with newfangled smartphone connectivity, this scale is an attractive choice.
It accurately reads the most important data points including BMI, body fat, and weight as well as the not so important or impossible to accurately measure statistics of water weight, bone mass, and muscle mass. It is easy to use and read and has an attractive design.
It does have trouble connecting to the relatively few fitness apps that it is compatible with, but if you don't plan on using those too much, then it shouldn't be a big problem. No pacemakers of pregnant women, however. So, if simple and cheap is your goal, look no further.