Obesity has been steadily rising in America for the past 50 years with no signs of slowing down. This trend of slow, increasing gains in body fat has also been documented with college students. Research from the University of Wisconsin and Andrews University show that 38% of students are now overweight or obese. Furthermore, over the course of 10 years, student average body fat has increased almost 3%.
Education can be a key element in the fight against obesity and the college recreation center is a great place to deliver it. Wellness assessments including body fat testing can teach students that monitoring fat content is more important than just checking their weight. They will also learn if their body fat percentage score is in the healthy range or if it is too high. This baseline measurement will usually motivate the student to learn more about nutrition and exercise and start making healthy changes in their lifestyle behaviors. The staff member can then show the student the exercise facilities at the recreation center and provide them information about ongoing health and wellness classes.
Once committed to wellness assessments and body fat testing, the question arises as to which testing device to use. There are several types of devices with the more accurate ones being expensive and less practical. For example, in the case of the hydrostatic weighing method, the student must go under water, expire all the air in their lungs and then hold perfectly still for 5 seconds. Not all students can or want to go through this procedure. Furthermore, if the staff member does not use another device to measure the student’s actual residual lung volume, the final body fat score may be no more accurate than other less cumbersome procedures.
Most recreation centers that want to offer wellness assessments will have limitations on budget, space and staff technical skills. Therefore, the more appropriate body fat testing procedures would be either BMI, skinfold measurements, circumference measurements or bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). BMI is a number comparing weight to height. This is an easy procedure to perform but not recommended for use because it does not accurately estimate a person’s body fat. The skinfold method is accurate within +- 3.5% body fat if the staff member is well trained on the technique. Using skinfolds is not recommended with obese students because of the difficulty in getting accurate skinfold measurements. Using circumference measurements is slightly less accurate than the skinfold method but can be used with obese students. The BIA method provides the same accuracy as skinfolds but is sensitive to body water content. To get the most accurate results the student needs to adhere to strict pre-testing guidelines concerning eating, drinking, exercise, urination and recent illness.
The practical methods of body fat testing like the skinfold method provide reasonable results that can be beneficial in identifying conditions of over fat and motivating the student to pursue healthier lifestyle habits. However, these methods are not well suited for tracking changes in body fat. Once the initial baseline body fat measurement has been made, and assuming it is a good measurement, repeat measurements should not be made again for at least 6 months or a year. If you provide more frequent wellness assessments, focus the testing and discussion on changes in body weight, circumference measurements or individual skinfold measurements.
Rob Rideout is Vice President of sales for MicroFit, a leading manufacturer of wellness and fitness assessment software and testing devices. You can reach Rob at email@example.com or 800-822-0405