Body fat levels vary depending on many factors, including sex, age, and body type. Still, body fat may be one important indicator of health, as having too much or too little is associated with a number of health issues (
If you’re curious to know your body fat percentage, you may be wondering if there’s an accurate way to measure your body fat at home.
While the most accurate measures of body fat like Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) and air displacement plethysmography (ADP) are generally only used in medical and research settings, there are some ways to measure body fat in the comfort of your own home (
This article covers 4 of the best ways to measure body fat at home.
Skinfold calipers offer an inexpensive way to measure body fat. They’re relatively easy to use and especially helpful for measuring body fat levels when other methods that require expensive equipment or specialized training are unavailable.
These handheld tools pinch and measure the thickness of subcutaneous (under the skin) fat in multiple areas of the body, including the abdomen, triceps, and thigh.
It’s typically recommended to use a 7-site measurement method when using skin calipers, which involves taking skinfold measurements from 7 areas of the body. However, 8-site and 3-site measurements can be used as well (
The 7-site measurements are all taken on the same side of the body and include:
- under the shoulder blade
- midaxillary (near the armpit)
- above the hip
Here’s a how-to video demonstrating 7-site and 3-site skinfold measurement methods.
Keep in mind that you will need assistance when taking skinfold measurements.
After measurements are taken, the skinfold measurements are added. The sum determines percent body fat.
Although there are equations that can be used to determine percent body fat, researchers suggest that using the sum of skinfold sites in millimeters is more accurate than plugging numbers into an equation (
Skinfold calipers come in manual and digital versions and can range in price, depending on the type you choose. Most come with a measuring tape and a body fat chart.
Studies show that skinfold calipers can be an accurate way to measure body fat, but they do require some skill and knowledge of anatomy. Also, accuracy can vary significantly based on body fat levels, how you’re using the calipers, and other factors (
Skinfold calipers can be used to measure body fat at home. However, they require some skill and knowledge of anatomy. Also, accuracy of skinfold calipers can vary significantly based on body fat levels, how you’re using the calipers, and more.
A note from Healthline
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.”
Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
We encourage you to talk with a healthcare professional if you need support navigating how the information in this article may apply to you.
Circumference measurement (CM) is another way to measure body fat at home.
This method uses a tape measure to take measurements of specific sites on the body. These measurements are then entered into an equation to determine body fat percentage.
CM is considered a reliable method to measure body fat. Even the Department of Defense uses this metric to determine the body fat percentage of service members (10).
Using a non-stretch tape measure, take circumference measurements three times at each anatomical site and record to the nearest half-inch.
The measuring sites vary by sex (10).
- Neck: measured right below the voicebox and rounded up
- Waist: measured at the natural waistline (or the smallest waist circumference) and rounded down
- Hips: measured at the largest protrusion of the buttocks
- Neck: measured right below the voicebox and rounded up
- Waist: measured at the navel and rounded down
The three measurements for each site are read parallel to the floor and averaged together. These averages are then plugged into an equation along with a person’s height (
The equation for women is:
- % body fat = 163.205 x log10 (waist + hip – neck) – 97.684 x log10 (height) – 78.387
The equation for men is:
- % body fat = 86.010 x log10 (abdomen – neck) – 70.041 x log10 (height) + 36.76
Even though this method may seem simple, it does require taking measurements accurately and precisely.
It’s important to measure correctly, leaving enough tension to provide an accurate measurement while being careful not to indent the skin.
Also, this method requires some knowledge of anatomy; for example, knowing the location of the voicebox.
A 2019 study that included 76 active military service members found no significant differences when comparing the accuracy of the CM method to DEXA — considered one of the most reliable measures of body fat (10).
However, the researchers found that the CM method was less accurate when measuring females with larger waists. This means that the accuracy of the CM method varies depending on body fat distribution.
Nevertheless, the CM method is one of the best ways to measure body fat at home because it’s inexpensive and can be done by most anyone.
Circumference measurement (CM) involves taking circumference measurements at specific sites on the body and entering the averages into an equation to estimate body fat percentage. It’s relatively easy to do and inexpensive.
Trying to “do it right” when it comes to nutrition may feel tempting, but it can backfire. If you are preoccupied with food or your weight, feel guilt surrounding your food choices, or routinely worry about your body measurements, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.
Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or other identities.
They can be caused by any combination of biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors — not just by exposure to diet culture.
Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.
You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.
Body fat scales or smart scales are popular amongst those who want an easy way to monitor their body composition regularly at home.
Unlike traditional scales that only measure body weight, body fat scales combine weight scales with something called a foot-to-foot impedance meter (FFI) (
The FFI estimates body fat and muscle mass by sending electrical currents to the body and measuring the response. Muscle and fat respond differently to electrical currents, and the scale uses these differences to determine body fat.
Even though this method is one of the simplest ways to estimate body fat in a home setting, there are some drawbacks to using smart scales.
A 2021 study compared the accuracy of three smart scales in measuring body weight and composition in underweight, normal weight, and overweight adults against DEXA.
The researchers found that although body weight was accurately measured by the scales, body fat was underestimated (
One of the issues with smart scales is that their accuracy depends on the body composition of the population used to train the smart scale during production. Plus, accuracy can vary widely between smart scale models (
However, even though they aren’t the most accurate way to assess body composition, they are an easy way to get a general idea of your body fat percentage at home.
If you’re interested in purchasing a smart scale, be sure to purchase a high quality product. Check out Healthline’s top recommendations for body fat scales here.
Smart scales use a foot-to-foot impedance meter (FFI) to measure body composition. They can be used as an at-home method for body fat measurement, but their accuracy varies significantly.,
Measuring your waist circumference can give you an idea of your body fat levels and whether or not you have a high amount of body fat stored around your midsection (
Knowing your waist circumference can help you determine if you have too much fat stored around your midsection.
Taking your waist circumference is easy and, unlike many other at-home methods for measuring body fat, you don’t need assistance to measure your waist circumference.
All you need to do is to place a non-stretch tape measure around your midsection above your hip bones, making sure the tape measure is horizontal around your waist. Keep the tape measure snug, but make sure to avoid compressing the skin (
Breathe out, then measure the circumference of your waist.
The larger your waist circumference, the more belly fat you’re likely to have. In order to reduce the risk of many health conditions, health organizations recommend that waist circumference be kept below a certain measurement (
Currently, the National Institutes of Health and the National Cholesterol Education Program have established waist circumference cut off points of ≥ 40.2 inches (102 cm) for men and ≥ 34.25 inches (88 cm) for women (
The World Health Organization recommends that men keep waist circumference ≤ 37 inches (94 cm) and women ≤ 31.5 inches (80 cm) (
It’s important to note that waist circumference cut off points vary depending on ethnicity. For example, those of Asian descent have lower waist circumference cut off values compared to those of European descent (
Keep in mind that even though measuring your waist circumference can be a good indicator of whether or not you carry excess body fat in your midsection, it can’t tell your overall body fat percentage.
Waist circumference measurement is an easy way to assess body fat levels in your midsection. However, it can’t tell you your overall body fat percentage.
If you’d like to have a general idea of your body fat levels, there are certain methods you can use at home, including skinfold calipers, body circumference measurements, body fat scales, and waist circumference.
However, these methods are typically much less reliable compared to methods used in clinical settings like DEXA.
Although knowing body fat percentage can be helpful for some people, such as competitive athletes, it’s usually not necessary in order to determine a person’s overall health and disease risk.
If you have questions about your body composition, including healthy body fat levels for your age, sex, and ethnicity, reach out to a trusted healthcare professional for advice.
Just one thing
Try this today: Body fat levels vary significant depending on factors like age, sex, and ethnicity. If you’re interested in learning your body fat levels for health reasons, it’s important to understand that your body fat level is just one indicator of health. It can’t be used on its own to assess overall health or disease risk.
If you’re concerned about your body composition, consider working with a healthcare professional.