6.1: Body Weight versus Body Composition

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According to surveys, the top reason American females exercise is for weight control. For males, the top reason is to improve muscle tone while weight control ranks as the fourth most important reason.1 Levels of attractiveness based on weight and visible musculature are significant points of emphasis in American culture. As such, individuals with well-toned muscles and low body weight are marketed assuperior within the context of attractiveness, financial success, and multiple other traits. Unfortunately, this emphasis, as seen in mainstream media, can result in unrealistic ideals and potentially harmful behaviors, such as eating disorders.

Unlike the mainstream outlets, which focus on the association between fat levels and physical attractiveness, this chapter focuses on the health-related consequences related to good and bad body composition. Body composition is defined as the body’s relative amount of fat-free mass (FFM) and fat mass (FM) and is generally expressed as a percentage of total body weight. FFM includes bones, muscles, ligaments, body fluids and other organs, while FM is limited to fat tissue.

The Importance of Measuring Body Composition Rather Than Just Tracking Body Weight

Tracking weight can be helpful, but body composition measurements help separate a person’s actual weight from the weight that could be unhealthy.

For example, an individual who weighs 200 pounds and has 8% body fat, such as an athlete, only carries around 16 pounds of FM. However, a 200-pound person who has a sedentary lifestyle and a body composition of 20%, carries 40 pounds of FM. Weight alone, in this case, does not distinguish between FFM and FM and would suggest both individuals have similar health. As body fat percentage increases, the potential for various diseases also increases significantly.

This page titled 6.1: Body Weight versus Body Composition is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Flynn et al. (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .