A body fat scale is a piece of equipment that any fitness enthusiast should have in their home. Not only can it help you monitor your weight and fat loss goals but it can help you keep track of other vital health statistics. But not all body fat scales are created equal. Far from it. In this article we will discuss how body fat scales work, factors that impact accuracy, and review the top 8 most accurate body fat scales on the market today.
Don’t have time to read the whole article? Our research concluded that these are the top 8 best body fat scales of 2018:
- Tanita FitScanBC-601FS Segmental Body Composition Monitor
- Omron Body Composition Monitor with Scale
- Tanita BC-558 Ironman Segmental Body Composition Monitor
- Bluetooth Smart Body Fat Scale by Weight Gurus
- Fitbit Aria WiFi Smart Scale
- Yunmai Premium Smart Scale
- EatSmart Precision GetFit Digital Body Fat Scale
- 1byone Bluetooth Smart Body Fat Scale
How a Body Fat Analyzer Works
Most body fat scales work by using a technology called bioelectrical impedance analysis. What this does is send a small electrical current up through one foot, up the leg and then down the other leg. Fat is a poor electrical conductor while muscle is a good electrical conductor. Therefore, the more resistance the electrical current encounters, the higher the fat volume.
While this is the best technique we have for consumer body fat scales, they are not always 100% accurate. Several variables can affect the results, including when you last ate, how hydrated you are, your skin temperature, body position, whether your feet are dirty or highly calloused, and the quality of the scale itself. In order to obtain the most accurate results, users should always use the scale at the same time of the day and never on a full stomach. You should also ensure you are centered on the scale and your feet are clean and preferably slightly damp.
For step on scales, the fact that the current only runs from foot to foot means that only the fat content in the lower part of the body is measured. Some studies show that body fat scales that use only foot electrodes underestimated the amount of body fat in subjects with lots of body fat and overestimated the amount in leaner subjects. This can vary depending on the quality of the scale and if there are user profile settings that can help adjust for age, gender, and body type.
Generally, scales may be less accurate for elderly people, children, highly trained athletes, and those with osteoporosis. However, it should be noted that in spite of any inaccuracies, the scales can still be used to monitor progress if you standardize the way you perform each test. This means consistently testing your body fat percentage under the same conditions over time. Newer scales often include fitness monitoring apps that connect via bluetooth or Wi-fi and help to track readings automatically. This makes the scales much more useful, even if the readings aren’t 100% accurate.
The Best Body Fat Scales of 2018
Across my team, we tested over a dozen body fat scales using hydrostatic weighing as the baseline measurement for each participant. Each scale was tested once per day over 7 days so that consistency could be taken into account. While none of the devices were 100% accurate there were certainly big differences in accuracy in the initial measurements and also fluctuations over the course of the week.
19 Unique Body Composition Readings: This monitor is extremely thorough, offering 9 whole body readings, including metabolic age, visceral fat rating, body fat percentage, and body water percentage, along with 10 segmental measurements for specific body parts, like your legs or arms. This helps you get a comprehensive look at your body composition and monitor specific areas, so if you’re aiming to build muscle mass on your legs, you can see exactly what percent of muscle you are gaining in your legs and weight the effectiveness of different routines.
Guest mode: Once you have this body monitor, you’ll be wanting to show it off to all your friends, who will, of course, want to try it. Since this monitor has a Guest mode feature, you can let as many friends as you want try it out without worrying about it messing about your personal stats. This monitor also has enough memory for up to four people, so if anyone else in your household wants to monitor their progress they don’t have to get an entirely separate one.
SD Card Compatible: This monitor’s SD compatibility is what makes it such a useful tool for tracking progress. Sure, you need the measurements and everything, but without the SD card you’d be left to remember all your measurements yourself or write them down and create a log manually. The SD card stores all of your data, so you can easily recall it and see your progress over long periods of time. The SD card also makes it easy to export your data to your computer for easy viewing.
Setting up the monitor was pretty easy and using it was even easier, especially considering how many readings it takes. The first time I used it I thought it would be a nightmare, but it’s actually very intuitive and easy to use. After receiving my first set of readings I was immediately pleased, but also a little bit overwhelmed because there are just so many data points to look at. I appreciate that this monitor takes segmental readings so that I can know exact readings for specific body parts, but it can be a lot to take in at once. That’s why I immediately loved the SD card function which saves and stores data so you can go back and look at, so I didn’t have to memorize everything right away.
After about a week on a targeted fat burning workout regime, I decided to take my body composition measurements again. When I looked in the mirror I couldn’t physically see any results yet, but when I took my measurements it was revealed that I had dropped a small amount of fat, more in my lower body than upper. This can be great motivator if you’re having trouble sticking to your workout or nutrion plan since it shows you, without question, that what you’re doing is working, even over a relatively short time period.
- Four person memory
- Easy to store and use
- SD card compatible
- Helps maximize workout regimes
- Guest and Athlete modes
- 90 Day Warranty
- Extra large LCD color display
- Requires batteries (initial batteries are included)
The Tanita FitScan Segmental Body Composition Monitor is definitely worth the money if you’re serious about your fitness. It may be out of the price range of some, but the accuracy and ease of use make this worth saving for. Not only does accurately track body fat for both the upper and lower body, but it tracks over a dozen other critical metrics.
Too rich for your blood? Here are some solid alternatives that may better fit your budget:
The fact that this scale takes readings from both the hands and the feet eliminates some of the inaccuracies that occur with feet only measurements, since some people carry more fat in different parts of the body.This scale is very directionally accurate (it can track small changes in body fat up or down), but there are no options for configuring your specific body type, and it uses assumptions based on your age and gender to do the calculations. This means some users, particularly those with less common body types, may see inaccurate results depending on a number of factors. Unfortunately, you cannot change the settings to accommodate for this. This body composition monitor is really meant for fitness athletes who need a high degree of accuracy when tracking body fat changes.
In our testing, after the initial setup is complete this scale provides very consistent results over time. There are some limitations as always, but it is one of the more accurate body fat scales on the market today. That said, the price is also quite a bit higher than many other scales, especially considering it does not have bluetooth connectivity or a mobile app to help track progress. This makes it a good fit for athletes or fitness competitors, but possibly not for more casual users.
The readings are at the same accuracy level you’d get at a professional fitness center, making it a good scale for professional fitness athletes. Nonetheless, amateurs might not value this level of accuracy considering the high price tag.
Like other Tanita body composition monitors, it uses Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA), which is acknowledged as one of the most accessible and reliable methods of screening body fat. The difference between this device and some of the lower cost scales on the market is the ability to measure different segments of the body independently. Typically body fat scales only take readings from the feet, which can lead to inaccurate results depending on a number of factors. That is not the case with the Tanita BC-558.
Overall, this is one of the most accurate body composition monitors you can buy and is best suited for professionals or those who are willing to spend 10x for that accuracy. For recreational users your money may be better spent on a lower cost scale that offers features like bluetooth connectivity and fitness tracking.
Pairing the machine with the companion app is fairly effortless. iOS users should have no trouble, but for Android 6.0 users make sure your location is turned on in order to link the scale to the app. This is not mentioned in the instructions.
After the scale is connected to the app, you setup your profile, and transferring data is simple from there. All you have to do is turn on Bluetooth, pair, and step on the scale. The scale will automatically transfer your information to the app privately.
Our measurements were consistent for weight and body fat, although some other customers have stated that the scale doesn’t zero out properly unless you first put some weight on it, step off, and then step back on for a second reading. This appears to be isolated to a small number of users though.
The app, which can be downloaded from both iTunes and Google Play, is easy to use. Entries in the Weight Gurus app can be saved, deleted or transferred to other services like Fitbit or Google Fit. Attractive graphs are available within the app to help track progress over time, in addition to the many fitness tracking features available in the other compatible services. Some users report issues with Fitbit compatibility, but it seems this has been resolved by an update to the app.
Overall, this is a very attractive and accurate scale with a feature set that dwarfs most others in this price range. Our testing showed consistent results, and the multiple different fitness tracking apps make it extremely easy to monitor progress and spot potential outliers or bad readings and remove them from the data set. Combine that with excellent customer service, and you have yourself a winner.
The weighing process takes no more than five seconds which is better than most, but it can be finicky. In our testing the results are consistent over time, but there are a number of things that can throw it off. A couple of things to keep an eye on: 1) the surface its on; 2) your distribution of weight (must be perfectly centered); 3) how much water you've consumed that day and when; 4) if you are wearing any metallic jewelry.
To get the most accurate readings be sure the scale is on a hard flat surface, your weight is perfectly centered with your feet lined up on the sensors, and any metal jewelry is removed. As with all BIA scales, you should weight yourself at the same time of day every day, preferably on an empty stomach. If you drink a lot of water before weighing, this can throw off the reading. All these variables remaining constant, we received mostly accurate readings over time with this scale.
The best part about Fitbit tracking is that even if you get an inaccurate reading from time to time, the data is all stored online and outliers can be removed to maintain a consistent trend. At the end of the day, it’s the long term trend that matters the most and not day to day fluctuations. Aria automatically syncs to your Fitbit dashboard at each weigh-in making it very easy to stay on track and keep yourself motivated.
On a whole, this is a very well designed scale with a nice feature set, but ease of use and the Fitbit fitness tracking apps are where it excels. While it is relatively expensive compared to competing scales, this is still a good value for those who value simplicity.
You needn’t tap the scale to use it like some others. You step on, and in a few seconds you’ll be provided with the measurements. Your measurements can then be synced to the smartphone app via bluetooth, although this is sometimes easier said than done. Some users report issues with the bluetooth connectivity.
Concurrently, the app could use some enhancements. There are a few grammatical errors, making it clear that this is a foreign product that was not properly translated to English. It also does not connect to any other fitness tracking apps like Fitbit or Apple Health (yet).
One key concern among many buyers is security. A while back, some of the more tech savvy users discovered that the app had access to a wide range of sensitive information on the phone, including call logs and photos. The concerns were heard and the app has since been updated, but it's worth mentioning.
In terms of accuracy, this scale is above average in our testing. Readings appear mostly accurate but can fluctuate slightly from day to day. Weight readings are very consistent, but most other readings can bounce around a bit. Still, it is feature packed, attractive looking, and provides good accuracy for the price.
For those not seeing quality readings, one user left a useful tip: try changing the scale setting from "Athletic Male/Female" to just "Male/Female". Even if you match the specifications for "Athletic" according to the documentation, you may find much more accurate readings after adjusting this setting.
The setup is effortless, and the device is easy to use. You can have it up and running in less than 10 minutes. The scale stores the personal data of eight users; hence, the entire family can monitor their health with this one device. Design and durability are on par with what you'd expect for such a popular product. Most would agree that the edgy, sleek design of the product would make a great fit in most bathrooms, especially since it is available in both black and white.
Last, but not least, the scale comes with a 2-year warranty.
In our testing, this scale does get close in terms of accuracy when it is used properly. As with other BIA scales it is recommended to use it at the same time of the day. An ideal time of day is at night, at least 2 hours after your last meal. Readings do fluctuate, but fortunately it synchs all data to a mobile app making it easy to keep track of the overall trend, even if you occassionally get a bad reading. The weight readings were very accurate, body fat slightly less. Our muscle mass readings did seem a little off, and unfortunately there are no settings that allow you to adjust based on body type, age, etc.
For a casual user looking to improve their body composition over time, this scale is a very affordable option at under $40. This is a great price point considering it offers fast and simple synching of your data via bluetooth to your mobile phone. The app is fairly simplistic and could use some UI improvements, but overall, this scale is very easy to use and looks great on your bathroom floor.
What to Look For in a Body Fat Scale
There is an army of body fat scales on the market today, with each one claiming to be the best. In order to help you make the correct choice, consider the following:
Display: this should be clear and big enough to read when standing on the scale. Look for a scale with an accompanying mobile app for more convenient viewing. The displayed data should be easy to understand and should remain on the screen long enough for you to read. Look for a scale that allows you to redisplay the data without having to weigh yourself again.
Additional Readings: many models display other relevant details like body mass index (BMI) as well as body composition information (i.e. bone mass, muscle mass and water content). Some scales also display goals based on personal information (age, sex, height). Examples of such goals are ideal weight and daily calorie intake.
Easy Control + Instructions: these must be clearly labeled and easy to use. The instructions in programming the scale should be straightforward. Ideally, there should be useful diagrams and advice on how to interpret the results.
User profiles: this refers to saved sets of individual information. If multiple people are going to be using the scale this will come in handy, since different body types often need special configurations. Choose the scale with the right profile for you. If your kids are going to use it, make sure it can be calibrated for children. The same thing applies if you are an athlete with over ten hours of strenuous exercise a week.
Value: you don’t need to break the bank, but don’t cheap out either because results show that accuracy is often correlated with the price of the body fat analyzer.
How a Regular Scale Can Mislead You
Clothes, photos and mirrors don’t lie, but neither do fat calipers. The weighing scale can turn out as your worst enemy because it can mislead you and kill your motivation. Let’s look at the following examples:
Carbohydrates and water: carbohydrates bind to water, so eating less carbs will help you lose weigh through water loss. This is the reason why you lose a lot of weight on a diet such as Atkins during the first two weeks. You are losing mostly water. Increasing your carbohydrate intake will help you gain weight again through water retention.
Muscle gain and fat loss: you will gain muscle mass while losing unwanted fat when you do strength training. But on the weighing scale it will appear like you are not making any progress because your body-weight remains the same. Monitor your body fat percentage using a caliper and you will notice that your body fat is gradually going down.
Other Ways to Measure Your Body Fat
A quick Google search will show dozens of ways to measure body fat ranging from the simple and quick to the incredibly detailed. Such techniques can help in setting baseline values for body composition and certain goals. However, the variations in techniques entail a fluctuation in accuracy. One technique may nail down your body fat percentage to within a few decimals, while others tend to leave a huge discrepancy. Here are five of the best techniques for measuring body fat.
Skinfold Calipers – This is probably the most accessible technique for measuring body fat. A skin fold evaluation can be performed in three, four or seven sites, which typically include the arm, chest, abdominals and thigh. The technician pinches the skin and then uses a caliper to measure the thickness of the skin fold. The technician then uses a formula to calculate body fat percentage.
Bioelectrical Impedance – This has been previously mentioned. Bioelectrical impedance scales range from a scale with electrodes under each foot to a scale with handholds and additional electrodes. Regardless of the device used, they work by sending electrical impulses through the lower part of the body and then measuring how fast those impulses return. The rationale behind this technique is that lean tissue conducts electrical impulses faster than fatty tissue. Hence, a quicker response time is associated with a leaner physique and lower body fat percentage.
Hydrostatic Weighing – This is also known as underwater weighing. It compares the normal bodyweight of the subject to his/her bodyweight while fully submerged. Using the two measurements and the density of water, technicians can accurately calculate the subject’s density. The resulting figure is then used to estimate body fat percentage.
DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) – This is considered as the gold standard for measuring body fat percentage. A DEXA scan exposes the subject to X-ray beams of varying intensities to measure bone mineral density as well as body fat percentage. The subject lies on a table while a machine arm passes over the entire body while emitting both high and low-energy X-ray beams. The technician can obtain readings for bone mineral density and fat mass by measuring the absorption of each beam into different parts of the body.
Air-Displacement Plethysmography – This is actually similar to hydrostatic weighing. The subject sits in a small machine (like a Bod Pod) and the amount of air displaced is measured. The technician can then determine body density and compute body fat percentage.
What is the Ideal Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage (BFP) refers to the percentage of fat the body contains. It can be obtained by dividing your total mass of fat by your total body mass. Body fat percentage is a measure of your fitness level because it is the only body measurement that directly calculates your relative body composition without considering your height or weight.
Epidemiologically, the body fat percentage of an individual varies according to age and sex. There are different theoretical approaches with regard to the relationships between body fat percentage, athletic capacity, health, among others. Consequently, different authorities have developed different recommendations for ideal body fat percentages.
Losing Weight vs. Losing Fat
People seem to use weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, but there is actually a world of difference between losing weight and losing fat. Let’s begin by defining each term.
Weight Loss – this is what you are doing when you see smaller figures on the scale. However, when you lower your body weight, you are essentially lowering the combined weight of your bones, muscles, organs, body fat, etc.
Fat Loss – this refers to lowering the amount of fat in your body. Healthy goals are losing 10 percent body fat for males and 15 percent for females.
Losing weight should never be your goal. Instead, you must always aim to lose fat. Bear in mind that every time you lose weight, you lose a little bit of everything, including fluids, muscle and even organ size. Majority of your weight loss must come from fat and not the other important stuff.
The problem with weight loss is that it can be unreliable, so stop weighing yourself! Your body-weight can fluctuate on a daily basis because it is influenced by fat loss/gain, muscle loss/gain, water loss/retention, and your stomach/bowel/bladder content. Hence, you don’t have a clear idea of what is really going on. Weight loss is also irrelevant because two individuals with the same height can weight exactly the same. However, they may look different because one has lower body fat compared to the other.
BMI provides a measure that can be used to compare the adiposity of people of varying heights and weights. While it typically increases in direct proportion to adiposity, due to differences in body composition, other body fat indicators yield more accurate result. For instance, people with larger bones or greater muscle mass will have higher BMIs. Therefore, BMI is a useful indicator of overall fitness for a large group of individuals, but a poor indicator of personal health.