Monday, January 25, 2010

My fat-shaming scale

Last night at dinner the Schmoogie started telling me about how awesome our scale is because it "uses some electrical measurment to determine your body fat [percentage]", so this morning, I decided to take that little feature for a spin.
I set it to adult, female, 5'7", and weighed myself (192.5, if you're curious). Then came the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 while it calculated my body fat.
That would make me morbidly obese. For those of you who have met me, I am not morbidly obese (not even in a bride's maid dress). My doctor isn't concerned at all about my weight (which if I was morbidly obese, he would be), and I have none of the signs or symptoms of diseases brought on by obesity. (For the record, my cholesterol is too low, my blood pressure is perfect, and I can hold Downward Facing Dog for upwards of 5 mintes.)
According to the internet, bones take up about 15% of ones body weight. My giant breasts take up another 5-10%. And the last time I had my body fat measured, it was somewhere around 30% (this was about 4 years ago, and for the record, I haven't changed pant size). But according to my scale, I am 42% fat. Putting me at somewhere around 10% muscle by my just as accurate calculations.
So, later, the Schmoogie is curious, and tests himself. He inputs male, 6'2.5", and weighs himself. The all knowing electrical current tells him he is 16% fat. Furthering our little experiment, I change my gender in the scale, input the same height, weigh myself and it comes back with -- are you ready for this because it's shocking -- 30%. Now I'm thinking, if it was actually measuring the same body with the same measurments, the gender wouldn't matter. So, I want to know more. We switch the Schmoogie's gender in the scale and measure the same body, and even more shocking, the scale tells a woman who is 6'2.5" and weighs 181 lbs, that she is 34% fat. DOUBLE the Schmoogie's original measurment. That's a pretty freaking huge margin.
Then I get thinking: this machine was programmed not to determine weight and body fat percentage, but to make women feel ashamed of their bodies. A woman with the exact same measurments -- the same body! -- as a man who is pretty much at the "ideal" weight/fat measurments is, according to this machine's calculations obese.
But a woman who was 6'2.5", 181 lbs, with good muscle tone, isn't even obese according to the standard (bullshit) BMI scale.
It's obscene. I'm thinking about getting a different scale that isn't a sexist fucker.


Max Kuenkel said...

I believe (just from things I've read over the years), that one of the ways men & women are different is in their body composition, women have a higher percentage of bodyfat and men having a higher percentage of muscle (exceptions serve to confirm the rule), so I expect differing results on your machine for men and women of equal height & weight. But a reading of "morbidly obese", for you, automatically discredits the machine. Let's see the programming of the machine and the criteria used. If they don't make such relevant information available then that would discredit the company in my view.

Rachel S. said...

It's true, men and women do have different body compositions, and on average women do tend to have more fat than men. HOWEVER, an accurate reading of the same body would return the same results whether measuring for male features or female features.

The criteria the scale uses is age, sex, height, and weight. I haven't researched the company and the specific scale we have, but once I have a little more time to do that I will.

Max Kuenkel said...

"HOWEVER, an accurate reading of the same body would return the same results whether measuring for male features or female features."

It would? If you accept the premise that men & women of equal height & weight have sex-specific, differing body compositions on average, then I would expect a different reading on the machine depending upon whether your input parameters indicate male or female (I'm assuming that the company that makes the machine accepts that premise).

Rachel S. said...

I think you're misunderstanding the premise here.

One body is going to have a specific measurement of its fat percentage. Whether one measures that body according to female averages or male averages, that same body is going to have the same body fat percentage, regardless.

What we did was measure my body with the male setting (delivering 30% body fat -- approximately accurate), and the female setting (delivering 42% body fat -- an exaggerated percentage that is not accurate). We then measured Peter's body using the male setting (delivering 16% body fat -- approximately accurate), and then the female setting (delivering 34% -- obscenely inaccurate).

One body has one body fat percentage, regardless of how you measure it. That was not the results achieved using this scale, and if it was really as magically accurate as it's supposed to be with its electrical current special flim-flam hoodoo, the measurements of the SAME body would be either the same percentage or close enough to be within a margin of error.

Claiming that the svelt body of a 30-year-old person who is 6'2" with good muscle tone and virtually no belly fat has a 34% body fat is obscene regardless of the gender of that person.

Max Kuenkel said...

Okay, I forgot to take my intelligence pills this morning, and it shows: I actually have no idea how such a machine measures body fat. I just made an assumption that it somehow correlates your input data and delivers a reading based a simple chart in its brain (of course then you wouldn't need the machine in teh first place). So I'm going to assume that it actually does measure body fat. And if it does that, then, exactly as you say,

but wait a minute: how does it measure body fat? What if one body part has a lot more fat content than another, does the machine know that and account for that?

Breathe Easier Fitness said...

This is why I call the scale I bought to gauge my body fat percentage "The lying Tanita scale that lies."

The excuses I heard for the differences? "Oh, women have more fatty tissue on the lower portions of their bodies, so the numbers might be a bit high if you carry your fat there." *headdesk* To combat this, I started measuring body fat standing on one leg and putting the rest of my weight on my hand over the sensor. Not that it helped much.

willis said...

Seems one must remain forever vigilant to catch these obscure attacks. It Looks like you're analysis is spot on.....and, no way do you weigh 190 lbs ;-)

James said...

The way the scale works is by sending an electrical "pulse" up one leg and timing how long it takes to travel back to the other. The pulse takes longer to travel through fat than muscle. It plugs that time into an equation that takes into account your gender, your age, and the average length of your legs for your height. If you are particularly long or short legged, you'll get a very inaccurate reading. It also tends to be inaccurate for people with a significant badonkadonk, but an otherwise svelte body. The pulse doesn't take into account much above the waste.

Rachel S. said...

I have long legs and short waist. I still think that the same scale measuring the same thing in the same body should yield closer results for different settings.

kpowers said...

my mom would've said, "teach that scale to swim". lol

Lani said...

I just discovered the same 'phenomonon' this morning. I went to google in my frustration, and came across your blog post. Thanks, I feel validated in my feeling that this scale is evil.

Anonymous said...

I am female, age 30, have a body mass index of around 20. Im 5 feet 8 and weigh 9 and half stone. I have small breasts about a c cup and am not very curvy. I have exercised since i was 18, and have not dieted but eat healthy. Not so long ago i was 9 st 4, but after going to the gym 3 times a week instead of 2 and doing more weights my weight has gone up a little. I have measured my thight and there the same size. My clothes all still fit the same on the lower body, but my upper arms have grown and i have got stronger, my heart rate has dropped etc. All the signs of getting fit.

When i was 20 i weighed 9 stone sometimes a bit under. But the scales would always show me at 25 % fat, they have never read me as less then 24% fat.

About 1 year ago i went through a stressfull time, i found i lost weight, i went down to 8 stone 10, i also felt weaker so i know it went from my muscle aswell as fat as i could see new bones on my arms. The scale read me as 22 % fat then. Which was odd to me, thats whemn i changed sex (on the scale), and got this really low reading of 10 %.

So back to now after 4 months of extra weight training more muscle gain etc, im now 29% fat! Almost in the unhealthy range! I changed sex again today amnd found i was only 14% as a man.

Then i realised what was wrong with the calculation. I bet somewhere in its workings it does some maths and takes bone structure based on its pre programmed ranges into account. It maybe allows a certin amount of weight for bone mass or body water levels between the sexes. So if your a woman with more then average bone mass, a bigger frame etc then it might calculate the extra weight as fat mass.

If you have a really small bone structure for your height then the reading will come out lower as it will assume more of the tissue that its electrical impulse carnt get through is bone.

Muscle tissue has an high water content, bone and fat have lower water levels. Bone also contains a lot of minerals. The scales work via an electrical current that travels along body waters.

Also no one knows when these average measurements of bone mass were taken, as in recient years people have changed due to better nutrition.