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How accurate are body-fat scales?

Many users are more than satisfied with a scale that accurately measures your weight, and that's it (and if that describes you, see our section on the best digital bathroom scales for some excellent and economical choices). However, some scales take things a step further and many people who are into health tracking like all the bells and whistles they can get.

Best body-fat scale

EatSmart Precision GetFit Digital Body Fat Scale
EatSmart Precision GetFit Digital Body Fat Scale

One popular option is a body-fat scale, which sends a tiny electrical pulse through the body to gauge body weight/density. These scales use a technique called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) to measure the time it takes for that current pulse to traverse up one leg and then back through the other. As noted by the experts at BerkeleyWellness.com, since fat has less water content than muscle, and hence has more electrical resistance, the speed at which the pulse travels provides an indication of the amount of fat in your body.

Are body-fat scales accurate? Not so much, experts say. "Many variables affect the results, including how hydrated you are, when you last ate and exercised, and even whether your feet are highly calloused or dirty, as well as the type and quality of the product itself," BerkleyWellness.com says. After not rating body-fat scales for several years following disappointing findings, ConsumerReports.com has recently weighed in again (pun intended) on body fat scales. Its tests found that while many body-fat scale are excellent at other things, when it comes to actually measuring body fat, accuracy isn't a highlight.

Still, body-fat scales have some advantages, including ease-of-use and privacy compared to other, more accurate ways to measure body fat, especially if they are used with their limitations in mind. "Although the scales aren't always accurate, they can still be a tool to measure progress if you test your fat percentage under the same conditions each time," says Leslie Truex at Livestrong.com. The experts at BerkleyWellness.com largely agree "Some researchers say that body-fat scales can be useful for tracking body fat changes over time and that they can help motivate some people to lose weight (regular scales can do this too, of course)," they note.

With those caveats in mind, if you're looking for a solid body-fat scale, the EatSmart Precision GetFit Digital Body Fat Scale (Est. $50) looks like a top choice. It's been professionally reviewed -- and receives a 4-star rating from the testers at Good Housekeeping. "One of the less expensive advanced body analysis scales, this model worked comparably to our top performers, weighing subjects both accurately and consistently," the editors say. It also makes Wendy Bumgardner's list of the top eight body-fat monitors at About.com. She complains that the scale doesn't display a person's Body Mass Index, and that it doesn't provide any easy indicators that tell you if your weight and other readings have gone up or down, but adds that the scale performs well overall.

But what puts it over the top compared to similar scales is user feedback. While not everyone is satisfied, it earns strong ratings compared to most body fat scales -- 4.3 stars at Amazon.com following more than 4,500 reviews. Part of that is performance, but part is also EatSmart's commitment to customer satisfaction. Users are sometimes shocked at how proactive the company is in making sure that those that buy its scales are completely satisfied; we noted similar satisfaction with the EatSmart Precision Digital Bathroom Scale (Est. $25) that is profiled in our section on the best basic digital bathroom scales. While feedback elsewhere is slimmer, it seems that users posting on other sites are just as happy, if not more so. For example, roughly 45 reviewers at BestBuy.com give the EatSmart Precision GetFit Digital Body Fat Scale a 4.7-star rating, and 96 percent say that they would recommend it to a friend.

The EatSmart has a weight capacity of 400 pounds. It can store profiles for up to eight users, and recognize the user by their weight. "Step on" technology means that you don't have to tap the scale first to activate it. Information displayed on the 3.5-inch backlit LCD readout includes percent of body fat, percent of body muscle, percent of body water and bone mass. The scale features a tempered glass platform and comes in either black or white.

There's a little less feedback on the Ozeri Touch (Est. $40), but it looks to be a strong choice as well. The only professional review we found to be credible was at BreakingMuscle.com, a fitness site. There, Becca Borawski Jenkins, a certified fitness coach, talks about the pros and cons of the scale. She compares it to an older, but pricier body-fat scale and comes away impressed. "All in all, as long as you take the strengths and limitations of bioelectrical impedance analysis into consideration, the Ozeri is a great option for a digital bath scale," Jenkins says, adding that "It's sturdy, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to use."

Like the EatSmart, user reviews are plentiful and impressive, and the Ozeri Touch body-fat scale earns a 4.3-star rating after more than 2,600 reviews at Amazon.com. User reviews elsewhere are tough to come by, but what we found reflects similar satisfaction.

Data displayed includes information on body fat, muscle mass, bone mass, and body water. It's rated for users up to 440 pounds. It features technology that does not require tapping first to get an accurate measurement. One neat feature is a tare function that lets you step on the scale holding an infant, pet, or even a piece of luggage, and have the scale display its weight. Like the EatSmart, the platform is tempered glass and the scale is available in either black or white.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Bathroom Scales | Best Digital Bathroom Scales | Best Smart Scales | Buying Guide | Our Sources

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