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    Are You At Risk? continued...

    "Many studies have related BMI to disease risk," noted Heymsfield. "What we did was correlate body-fat percentage to BMI, allowing us to take the first big step toward linking body-fat percentage to disease risk. This new research reveals the value of assessing body fat more directly using the latest scientific technology to measure body-fat percentage," he added.

    Although several research studies have indicated that an elevated BMI is associated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, BMI does not distinguish fat from muscle.

    "If we think of BMI being a rough measure of body fatness, there are people -- especially some highly trained athletes -- who are overweight but not overfat," says Heymsfield. "Likewise, there are people who are of a normal weight according to BMI scales but who are overfat. BMI is a broad, general measure of risk. Body-fat assessment is much more specific to your actual fat content and thus provides a more accurate picture."

    How Much Fat is OK?

    The American Council on Exercise provides the following ranges for body-fat percentage:

    Women

    Men

    Essential fat

    10-12%

    2-4%

    Athletes

    14-20%

    6-13%

    Fitness

    21-24%

    14-17%

    Acceptable

    25-31%

    18-25%

    Obese

    32% plus

    26% plus

    "What we want people to shoot for is a range rather than a magic number," says Barbara J. Moore, PhD, president of Shape Up! America. "It's comforting to know that women can be and should be fatter than men. They have a totally different reproduction function and the higher fat in women supports that reproductive function."

    But not all measures of fat percentage are equal. Some methods have high error rates. The two most common methods used are skin-fold measurement and bioelectrical impedence analysis

    In skin-fold measurement, a trained specialist uses calipers to measure specific spots on the body. These measurements are compared to a chart that estimates fat percentage. You may have seen this used in your gym or doctor's office. These skin-fold devices can also be purchased and used at home. However, the accuracy of this method varies greatly based on the user's abilities. Bioelectrical impedance analysis, the other common method, is the technology behind the many fat percentage scales sold for home use.

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