If you’ve recently had a health and nutrition assessment, you may have been told about Bio-electrical Impedance Analysis or Bioimpedance Analysis (BIA). It is a method of assessing body composition and measuring body fat in relation to lean body mass. The goal is to properly identify a person’s body composition, a good tool for measuring overall health. Those with an altered or unhealthy body composition—the body’s relative amount of body fat to fat-free mass—are at greater risk for health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, cancer and high blood pressure.
In order to calculate a person’s body composition using BIA, two electrodes are placed on a person’s right hand and left foot. A low-level electrical current is then sent through the body. The current can determine what different types of tissues it is passing through based on their conductivity levels, giving an accurate assessment of a person’s fat and lean fat free tissues. Using information gathered about water in the body, the system can calculate body fat. It takes less than 20 seconds to receive results.
Health and nutrition experts use BIA to properly assess a person’s body composition. Whether you are looking to reduce body fat percentages to meet a workout goal or to better overall health, body composition is a good measure of success. A healthy body composition often means a healthier body overall. When body composition is balanced, people tend to live longer and be healthier overall. Excess fat increases a person’s risk for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Over the years several tests have been developed to detail body composition, including BMI—a measure of body mass index. However, each test has come with its own set of complications. As a critical tool for measuring health, BIA works well. Using BIA, health professionals can often diagnose and treat health conditions early leading to better health outcomes overall.
In a gym setting, BIA is more effective than weekly weigh-ins because it measures fat weight vs. lean fat free weight. Sometimes when you’re building muscle, you’re gaining weight, but that frustration with the scale can be explained through BIA.
BIA paints a clear picture of a person’s insides in a fast, less expensive manner than a full 3D body scan. Because it measures the different tissues present inside a person, the results are more accurate than BMI calculations. The fact is every body is different and looks different, so without knowing how much fatty tissue, lean tissue and muscular tissue is inside a person—something BIA achieves by measuring the water in each type of tissue using current resistance—it’s hard to know how healthy a person is. For so long the number on the scale has ruled all, but muscle weighs more than fat and therefore a healthy person may actually gain weight when focused on health instead of lose it.
The results are much less frustrating for those who want to better their overall health and for those who want to achieve a more chiseled, toned physique.
The other benefit is that BIA allows for early detection of poor body composition, which could be caused by underlying disease or could result in diseases that affect the heart and other parts of the body. High levels of fat tissues inside of a person puts them at greater risk for many health problems. A person can look normal on the outside—skinny even—but still suffer from altered body composition.
For most people, BIA is not harmful. However, certain people should not use BIA equipment. For example, women who are pregnant could put their unborn babies at risk if they undergo BIA. People with pacemakers should also avoid BIA, as the electrical current can interfere with the medical device.
BIA does not itself solve any problems. The tool is used to provide a better analysis of a person’s body composition. What a person does with this information makes the biggest difference. The system’s biggest benefit is early detection of unhealthy or altered body composition, a condition that can be solved with intervention—the earlier, the better.
BIA can also lead to better health in those who struggle with a scale. Because weight alone does not paint an accurate picture of a person’s body composition, undergoing BIA or using a different system of checking the whole body is the best way to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Over the years, several technologies have been used to calculate body composition. In addition to BIA the following technologies have been used to measure body fat percentage: skin calipers, a tool that pinches several sites on the body to calculate body fat; hydrostatic weighing, a process of weighing a person underwater to estimate density; Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry, or DEXA, a technique that uses x-ray beams to calculate bone mineral density alongside body composition; air-displacement plethysmography, a type of underwater weighing that uses a small machine to calculate displaced water; and 3D body scans, which take circumference measurements of different body parts and then track body fat using those numbers.
Not all healthcare providers have a BIA machine, which means you may need to buy your own. The good news is these devices start as low as around $50. More advanced systems cost tens of thousands of dollars. A test in-office runs about $35-65 and in some cases is subject to insurance reimbursement.
Pieribone, David, and AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. “Bio-electrical Impedance Analysis.” TheBody.com. Accessed April 20, 2018. http://www.thebody.com/content/art14236.html.
“The Importance of Body Composition to Your Overall Health.” Rock Creek Wellness. July 26, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.rockcreekwellness.com/blog/the-importance-of-body-composition-to-your-overall-health/.
DuVall, Jeremey. “The 6 Best Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage.” Life by Daily Burn. February 12, 2018. Accessed April 20, 2018. http://dailyburn.com/life/health/how-to-measure-body-fat-percentage/.
“Bio-Electrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) – Body Mass Analysis.” Doylestown Health. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.doylestownhealth.org/medical-services/nutrition-counseling/bioelectrical-impedance-analysis-bia–body-mass-analysis.