Many people don’t realise that a traditional body mass index (BMI) calculation is not the best way to measure excess weight, with more and more people now turning to body composition scans to better understand and manage their health.
Unlike a BMI which assesses your entire weight – including your skeleton, organs and muscle – a body composition scan focuses entirely on the distribution of fat and lean muscle throughout your body, providing an accurate picture of where to target your weight loss or muscle building efforts.
This is especially important as all fat is not created equal. As Epworth Medical Imaging radiology technician Lisa Stevenson explains: “intrinsic fat within organs and in the blood is essential for life – a body composition scan assesses this fat, as well as measuring excess fat around the abdomen, hips, buttocks and thighs that we don’t actually need.”
So, who would benefit most from a body composition scan?
According to Lisa, for the average person a traditional BMI calculation will suffice, but people needing to lose weight or athletes looking to build their muscle mass would benefit from including body composition scans as part of their fitness regime.
“Body composition scans are the gold standard for measuring fat, muscle and tissue throughout the body,” she says. “A traditional BMI overestimates the amount of body fat for people like athletes as it doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle – it’s also not necessarily accurate for people who are overweight.
“My patients use body composition scans as a great motivational tool for weight loss, letting them gain an understanding of where their body stores fat, focus their fitness program on where they need to lose weight and then measure their progress over time.”
Lisa also treats athletes wanting to build muscle in order to hone their performance, for instance targeting muscle gain in certain areas to improve their results on the track or field.
A body composition scan takes only seven minutes to complete, and does not require a doctor referral. After the scan, patients receive an analysis of the results including a colour image of fat and muscle distribution which can be used to track progress.
So, what’s the best way to manage your weight?
Body composition scans are one tool in an overall health and fitness program. The best way to lose weight, of course, is to eat a variety of foods from each of the five food groups in the amount recommended and exercise regularly. If you’re looking to gain muscle, you need to think about increasing your healthy kilojoule intake and resistance training to increase muscle mass. Check out the Better Health Channel for more weight management tips.