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Making body fat calculation easier

The Moretti Skinfoldmeter is an essential piece of equipment for the surgery.

With obesity being added to the quality framework targets for 2006/7, this piece of equipment may offer a useful addition to measuring basic BMI based on height and weight.

Two individuals with identical weight and height may have different percentages of body fat, and yet a BMI calculation would treat them as the same.

The percentage of body fat is thought to be a more sensitive measure of obesity.

There are a variety of methods of measuring body fat, the most impressive being whole-body immersion in hydrostatic weighing tanks.

This is not practical day to day, hence the use of methods such as skin-fold thickness and bioelectrical impedance. The use of skin-fold measurement to calculate percentage body fat is 40 years old.

The Moretti Skinfoldmeter is a digital calliper designed to take easy readings to calculate the percentage of body fat. It is a modern version of the mechanical skin-fold calliper.

Unusual appearance
An odd-looking piece of equipment, it consists of a plastic rectangular base from which protrudes a pair of antler-like callipers, with levers to open them at their base.

They are heavily sprung and require a firm grip. The distal end of each calliper contains the microswitch sensors that generate the reading.

Once a reading has been taken, the unit bleeps and displays the value on a green LED display on the body. It will measure from 1mm to 100mm, which should suffice for most builds. There are two switches: on-off and reset. The unit is powered by three AAA batteries.

There is a wide range of what is considered normal for percentage body fat. The Moretti Skinfoldmeter comes with a table that provides normal percentage body fat ranges based on age range and sex.

If the measurements are taken carefully, this method should compare favourably with immersion.

To get accurate readings using this device means following the recommendations closely. Pinching the skin to create a fold is very important. The correct action involves pinching the skin between finger and thumb.

The callipers have one grey and one black end. The black one houses the sensor. When taking a reading, it is important that the grey end is placed into contact with the skin, and then the black end moved in. Once you are happy with the procedure, each area should be measured four times and an average reading calculated.

Readings should be taken from the recommended four parts of the body.

The first fold is a vertical pinch over the centre of the forearm over the biceps muscle. The second corresponds to the same position over the triceps muscle. The trickiest reading is the scapular fold. Here, the reading is taken from just below the apex of the scapular. The final reading comes from the pelvis just above the palpable pelvic ridge in the horizontal plane. The average for each area is added together.

If the machine is to be used personally by an individual, other measurement areas are recommended because the above four cannot be done single handedly.

The percentage body fat is then read from the table according to age and sex.

The Skinfoldmeter would certainly fit in well with part of the routine management of obesity in a nurse-run clinic environment.

- An independent review by Dr Caranci, a GP in Kettering, Northampton

- Equipment supplied by Williams Medical Supplies.

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