When someone refers to their “body fat percentage” what they are actually referring to is the percentage of their total body weight that is comprised of, for lack of better terms, pure fat.
For example, if a 200 pound man has a body fat percentage of 20% then that means a full 40 pounds of his total body weight is fat. If you are curious what your body fat percentage is, this is most easily determined by the use of a pair of body fat calipers.
What is a healthy body fat percentage?
So, just exactly what is a good body fat percentage for you? Well, that depends on your body size and style as well as your lifestyle. You won’t be a swimmer like Michael Phelps with 30% body fat index; he was likely in the 9-10% range, maybe even down in the 6-7% range at competition time.
Too many Americans today fall in the 20%+ category and men above 23% or so are actually obese. The numbers are actually a little different between men and women, with women allowed a higher percentage and still being considered healthy.
Why doesn’t my BMI tell me my body fat percentage?
Along the same lines as a body fat percentage is the BMI, or, body mass index. However the BMI calculator can be inaccurate if you are a body builder or a similarly muscular athletic type person because the BMI calculator doesn’t take into account the excessive muscle mass. There are many links with free BMI calculators that are accurate and reliable, but again, if you are a bulky body builder it may tell you that you are obese when you know that you aren’t.
It’s because of this inaccuracy of the BMI that an actual body fat percentage calculation can be more accurate and effective in determining where you lie as far as your weight and whether or not it should be a concern. We don’t all necessarily want to be the giant, vein popping, massively muscled men (or women) that one might find in a bodybuilding contest, but we do want to try to be healthy.
What is a normal body fat percentage?
Normal, healthy body fat percentages for men and women are different as men and women’s bodies are designed differently.
- Men, for a muscle man type, his body fat percentage would likely be in the area of 3-4%, this allows for that “cut” look that they covet. Then for those men that want the cut look but aren’t actually competing, they may likely fall into the 6-10% range. At this level of body fat percentage muscles are still defined and you are very obviously fit and healthy.
- The next level for an adult male and the level that is considered “optimum” body fat percentage for a healthy adult male is in the area of 15% or so. At this level a person is healthy but not necessarily sporting that “cut” and defined look, just a good all around healthy appearance.
- The next level for men starts getting to be in the danger zone. At 20-25% men need to start being concerned about certain health issues that come with being overweight. With this level of extra body fat there are concerns for issues such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Although it doesn’t look too bad when you are clothed, you may be a little self conscious about taking your shirt off at the beach.
- The real danger zone for men is when they hit the 30% mark. At this level of body fat percentage you are considered obese. There are approximately 60 million obese men in the U.S today. Obesity is the number one cause of heart disease and also is a major contributing factor to other illnesses including: Diabetes, Coronary heart disease, High blood cholesterol, Stroke, Hypertension, Gallbladder disease, Osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and bone of joints), Sleep apnea and other breathing problems, Some forms of cancer (colorectal and kidney) according to the NHI.
- The numbers look a little different for women, 11-15% is still very low and a female body builder may be in this range and still have that rippling muscled cut look. A very healthy 17-18% looks fantastic on a woman, this is likely the type of woman that does aerobics, eats right and exercises regularly. But numbers more around 20-22% are considered “normal healthy” body fat percentage levels for women.
- Body fat percentage levels in the 24-26% range still look great on a woman, but she has a little bit to squeeze on her and this is actually about the normal range for women. It’s when women start to get in the upper levels of body fat percentage that they need to be concerned about health related issues. Levels above 34% are not only unattractive, but are unhealthy. Women at this level can expect to experience the same health issues as obese men.
Are there other factors that come into play?
All told, nearly 36% of American adults are considered obese. These are numbers given by the CDC. More numbers state that higher income women are less likely to be obese than lower income women, and nearly half (49.5%) of non-Hispanic blacks are obese. This is followed closely by Mexican Americans with (40.4%) being obese, followed by (34.3%) of whites being obese.
Obesity not only is harmful to the overweight person, but also brings rise to higher overall healthcare costs for all of us. Often genetics play a part of course, but overall it is still nutrition education and proper diet and exercise that are needed to keep our bodies at a healthy weight and body fat percentage level.