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Your Healthy Family: Weighing in: Do I need a BMI scale?

Posted at 8:27 AM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 13:16:00-04

CLEVELAND, Ohio — When it comes to managing weight at home, the options for digital scales are seemingly endless.

But can scales that reportedly measure things like body mass index and body fat percentage be helpful?

Several studies have looked at different digital ‘body fat’ scales and how they stack up compared to the types of devices that are used in clinical research.

According to Leslie Heinberg, Ph.D, Director of Enterprise Weight Management at Cleveland Clinic, research has found that most are fairly inaccurate.

She said scales that come equipped with ‘bells and whistles’ can sometimes produce distressing results.

“They tend to over-estimate the percent body fat, and so when we tell people, ‘this is what you should be,’ or ‘this is your goal,’ and you’re seeing, in spite of all your hard work, that you’re still way over;’ that misinformation might be discouraging,” said Dr. Heinberg.

Dr. Heinberg said the biggest concern in using these scales, is people could be getting the wrong information, and the information could cause unnecessary stress. The readings might be so discouraging, that they could cause a person to give up or engage in really extreme or unhealthy diets.

She said getting feedback on weight and body fat percentage can be helpful, however, these numbers are not always the best measure of healthy behavior.

Dr. Heinberg said body fat percentage data can be helpful at the beginning of a weight loss journey, however, it’s best not to get caught up in trying to measure every day fluctuations.

“Something like percent body fat, is a great thing to do before you initiate a diet or an exercise program, and then maybe one or two months later; but, checking it every day, or every few days is not going to really be helpful,” she said.

If you really want an accurate assessment, Dr. Heinberg suggests talking to your doctor, because there are clinical ways that they can measure more accurately than what you can do at home.