Measuring body fat has just got easier and a whole lot more sophisticated

Measuring body fat has just got easier and a whole lot more sophisticated with the arrival of New Zealand’s first Bod Pod at Massey University.

The space capsule-like pod measures and tracks body fat and lean muscle mass using air displacement technology – replacing the tape measure and callipers or water displacement tanks previously used in research. Dr Jane Coad, Institute of food, Nutrition and Human Health, says the pod uses the same principles as underwater weighing but is much more user-friendly as the subject does not have to be immersed in water.

“The ‘dunk tank’ is very claustrophobic. The pod is much more suitable for children, disabled people and pregnant women. The subject sits in the pod in their togs and the difference in volume of the chamber, before and after the subject gets in, is measured precisely giving an accurate volume of the person. The entire measurement takes about five minutes.”

Dr Coad says once the volume and weight of a person is known, the proportion of fat and lean tissue in their bodies can be calculated, as can the visceral body fat around the abdomen.

“There is an unprecedented increase in obesity world-wide which has significant implications for health and lifespan. Obesity is increasing dramatically in New Zealanders of all ages. The incidence of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are all affected by obesity. However, body fat can vary in its distribution and effects. Visceral body fat around the abdomen is more harmful than peripheral body fat, particularly that distributed around the hips and thighs. This is the reason why a pear shaped body is considered to be healthier than an apple shaped body. The Bod Pod will allow us to differentiate between different types of body fat and assess health risk.”

She says the Bod Pod will further enhance the University’s growing capability in this area of metabolic syndrome – the pathological state that insulin resistance is part of, as well as in the field of body composition and specifically the loss of muscle tissue as people age.

“As people age, their overall metabolic rate falls and they lose muscle mass and bone mineralization. Although the reduced density of the skeleton renders the bones more vulnerable to fracture, it is the gradual erosion of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, and the ensuing frailty that leads to falls. The determination of body composition in the elderly is made complex by simultaneous changes in fat and muscle mass. The Bod Pod will allow us to measure body composition in older people much more reliably.”

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