Most Americans have misconceptions about the amount of body fat considered "healthy" for individuals, a recent study indicates.
Those misconceptions appear to be more prevalent
among men, who are more likely than women to believe that low body fat
is healthier, according to the survey by Tanita Corporation.
Body fat has a negative connotation for most
people surveyed, which may explain, in part, why respondents
underestimated the amount of body fat considered healthy, the
corporation noted. More than half (55 percent) of men and one-third of
women surveyed believe a man should have a body fat percentage of no
more than 16 percent. In comparison, fitness experts recommend a target
range of 17 percent to 23 percent body fat for healthy adult men.
Moreover, nearly half (49 percent) of men and 35
percent of women thought a desired body fat level for women was 19
percent or less, according to the survey. That figure is significantly
lower than the recommended body fat levels of 20 percent to 27 percent
for healthy adult women.
Almost a third of the respondents did not know the healthy fat range for adults, the survey revealed.
"Monitoring changes in both body fat and weight on
a regular basis provides a more dependable picture of fitness than
weight-watching alone," said Dr. Steven B. Heymsfield, deputy director
of the Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital at
Columbia University in New York. "Through a healthy diet, a
comprehensive exercise program and regular monitoring of body fat,
individuals can achieve a body fat percentage that falls within the
acceptable range for good health."
Adults also have unrealistic expectations about
how long it takes to lose body fat through diet and exercise, the
survey found. A majority of all respondents (52 percent) mistakenly
believe that it is possible to reduce body fat by at least two
percentage points within a month's time, through a regimen of diet and
exercise. Seventeen percent think it is possible to decrease body fat
by at least five percentage points in a month's time, the survey found.
These perceptions may lead to disillusionment, as
in actuality it takes at least a month of dieting and exercise to
produce a change of one percentage point.
"Men and women have a poor understanding of the
relationship between fat, fitness and body weight, and expect a quick
fix to reducing the amount of body fat they have," said Jeff Kahn of
Tanita Corporation. "As new technology has made it possible to measure
body fat at home, we expect increased awareness and understanding."
The survey also found:
surveyed were more likely to think they are "too fat," even if they are
not overweight. When comparing body weight and body fat, 71 percent of
those surveyed described their current body weight as healthy, compared
with 55 percent who described their current percentage of body fat as
Americans are not as knowledge-able about body fat as they are about
body weight. One in five (21 percent) said they "don't know" if their
current percentage of body fat is healthy or unhealthy, while only 7
percent could not describe the status of their body weight.
adults tend to be slightly better informed than older adults about
basic body fat facts. They also are more likely to consider their
current body weight and body fat levels as healthy. They are probably
correct, study authors noted, since experts estimate that as a natural
part of the aging process, the average person loses half a pound of
muscle each year while simultaneously gaining one-and-a-half pounds of
one-third of surveyed adults (29 percent) have had their body fat
measured, most by hand-held calipers. The likelihood that adults have
had their body fat measured decreased with age. However, most adults
are concerned about their body fat and indicated they would like to
take action to monitor it, according to the survey.
majority of American adults (82 percent) believes body fat is acquired
through a combination of heredity, eating high-fat foods and infrequent
exercise. Two-thirds believe regular exercise is the most important
factor in achieving a healthy body, followed by limiting fat and
Although men are more likely to think that low
body fat is healthier, they have more of a grasp of the connection
between body fat and body weight, the survey found: Men are more likely
than women to know that losing weight actually can increase a person's
percentage of body fat, and that losing body weight does not
necessarily result in losing body fat.
Address: Tanita Corporation, 2625 South Clearbrook Drive, Arlington Heights, IL 60005.