Weighing in on Body Fat

How Much Is Right for Me?

Interest in the measurement of body fat has grown tremendously during the last 20 years, largely because of its relationship to both health and athletic performance. Scientific data have linked obesity (an excessive accumulation of fat) with coronary heart disease, several types of cancer, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. How do I know if my body fat poses a risk for my health?

BMI/Height & Weight Tables

BMI. Body Mass Index (BMI) is often used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.

Calculated using your height and body weight, BMI is a very rough estimate of your overweight status and should be viewed as such. Although it is easily measured, it is not an accurate way of determining fatness or what you should weigh because it does not consider whether your composition of body weight is fat or muscle.

Height & Weight Tables. Height and weight tables are also a very poor method for determining overweight status. Similar to BMI, these tables do not consider body composition and only provide weight ranges recommended for various heights.

Using improper methods or public ideals can be a dangerous practice for determining a target body weight. It is recommended that concerned individuals consider measurement of body composition as an alternative to body weight. Using body composition, you can determine what percent of your total weight is fat.


Target weight is calculated as lean body weight (muscle & bone) plus the desired percentage of fat.
Target weight is the weight an individual is aiming to attain.

If you know your body fat, determine what percent is good for you using the standards above.

Then calculate your target weight using this formula:
Current weight x current % fat = fat weight 
Current weight – fat weight = lean weight
Lean weight / (100% – desired %) = target weight

Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR)

Data show that it may make a difference where the excess fat is deposited, with respect to medical complications. Obese people most vulnerable to disease tend to have more fat deposited in abdominal areas rather than hips and thighs. In other words, certain health risks may be greater for those with much of their body fat in the trunk and abdominal areas. This is called android obesity (or apple‐shaped) in comparison to gynoid obesity (or pear‐shaped, characterized by deposition of fat in the hips and thighs).

The ratio of waist and hip circumferences (WHR) is a simple and convenient method of determining apple or pear‐shaped bodies (and obesity type present). Apples have a WHR > 0.80; pears have a WHR < 0.80.

How to determine your WHR:

  1. Measure your waist (directly on the skin) to the nearest quarter inch;
  2. Measure your hips around the buttocks. (Take several measurements at various levels and use the largest one); and
  3. Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement (see below).

Lindsay, A. & Velasquez, S. 2008, Weighing in on Fat: Using a Pedometer, A Guide to Help Step it Up , Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-08-49.

Learn more about the author(s)


Also of Interest:

Engaging Rural Nevadans in Participatory Research to Explore and Explain the Community Food and Physical Activity Context Anne Lindsay, Courtney Coughenour, Holly Gatzke, Juliana Baker-Tingey, Steve Lewis 2019, Journal of Rural Social Sciences
fast food
Results From a Workplace Health and Wellness Program
In March 2013, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension received a grant to develop, implement and evaluate a six month pilot Workplace Health and Wellness program for employees at a local business. The program was to be delivered between April 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013.
Powell, P. 2016, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, Special Publication-16-05
Three-tiered Marketing A Marketing Strategy for the Cow-Calf Operator
Sorting cattle into marketing groups based on weight has potential financial rewards. The three-tiered marketing system spreads risk and results in cash flow throughout the year. This approach to marketing capitalizes on the ranch’s best genetics through retained ownership.
Conley, K., Riggs, W., and Torell, R. 2006, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-06-13
Diabetes and Lifestyle Ounce of Prevention
This fact sheet contains information on type 2 diabetes specifically on the risks and ways to prevent risks for diabetes.
Leontos, C. 2002, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-02-48
A comparison of beliefs and attitudes about body image, eating and weight between incarcerated and non-incarcerated females.
This study looks at behavioral health associated with weight concerns, body image, obesity and eating pathologies. Left untreated these may serve as triggers for relapse. The study observed differences in beliefs and attitudes about body image, eating and weight between incarcera...
Lindsay, A. 2015, UNLV Dissertation