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How can you tell if you have high fat?

There are a few key ways to determine if you have high body fat. The most accurate methods involve getting your body composition tested, but there are also signs you can look for on your own to get an idea of where you stand. Tracking your body mass index (BMI), measuring your waist circumference, pinching your skin folds, and assessing your appearance in the mirror can all provide clues about your body fat percentage. Keep reading to learn more about the telltale signs of high body fat and how to check your levels.

What is Considered High Body Fat?

Body fat percentages vary widely between individuals based on factors like age, sex, and fitness level. Here are some general guidelines on what is considered high:

  • Women: Over 30% body fat is high
  • Men: Over 25% body fat is high
  • Athletes: Up to 20% for men and 28% for women is acceptable

As a reference, average body fat percentages are around 21-33% for women and 18-24% for men. Having a higher than average level puts you at risk for obesity-related health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

How to Measure Body Fat Percentage

Get a DEXA Scan

DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) scans are considered the gold standard for accurately measuring body composition. During the quick, painless scan, you lie still on a table while a machine uses small doses of X-ray beams to measure your bone density and differentiate between fat, muscle, and bone mass. While highly accurate, DEXA scans are not always accessible or affordable.

Use Specialized Body Fat Scales

Scales designed to measure body fat use a technology called bioelectrical impedance analysis. A small electrical current is sent through your body to estimate fat and muscle mass based on how quickly it passes through. While generally less reliable than DEXA, these scales can provide reasonable body fat estimates when used properly.

Get a Hydrostatic Weighing

Also known as underwater weighing, this technique calculates your body fat based on your weight in water, which differs from your weight on land due to the buoyancy of fat. It involves being submerged in a tank of water and sitting still while measurements are taken. Hydrostatic weighing can be very accurate when done correctly.

Use Skin Fold Calipers

Personal trainers often use skin fold calipers to pinch and measure the thickness of folds of skin around certain areas of your body. The measurements are then used along with calculations to estimate overall body fat. When performed by an experienced tester, this method can be quite accurate.

Signs You May Have High Body Fat

High BMI

Your BMI or body mass index is a measurement based on your weight and height. A BMI between 25-29.9 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese. Having a BMI in the obese range can signify high body fat, although muscular individuals may have a high BMI with lower fat. Still, it’s a useful screening tool for the general population.

Large Waist Circumference

Carrying excess fat around your abdomen can be an indicator of high overall body fat. Measure your waist at the level of your belly button. Generally, a circumference over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men points to excess fat and associated health risks.

High Waist to Hip Ratio

Divide your waist size by your hip size to get your waist to hip ratio. A ratio above 0.85 for women and 1.0 for men suggests your body fat is predominantly concentrated around your middle. This visceral fat buildup raises your risk for metabolic abnormalities.

Excess Skin Folds

Use skin fold calipers or pinch your skin between your fingers at sites around your body like the arms, stomach, and legs. Thick skin folds and fat you can grab hold of likely mean you have high body fat. Pay special attention to abdominal area folds.

Round Body Shape

Stand naked in front of a mirror and take note of where your body tends to accumulate fat. A round or “apple” body shape with more fat around the belly indicates higher body fat compared to fat concentrated in hips and thighs (“pear” shape).

Low Muscle Definition

Take note of how much your muscles stand out. If you have little muscle separation or definition anywhere on your body, it generally signals higher body fat. Even in covered areas, muscularity will create firmness and shape.

Health Risks of High Body Fat

Carrying excess body fat, especially around organs like the heart, liver, and pancreas, raises your risks for developing chronic diseases including:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Breathing problems like sleep apnea
  • Certain cancers

Reducing your body fat by even a modest amount can significantly lower these risks and improve health. For substantial fat loss, aim to lose about 1-2 pounds per week through a combination of increased activity and a healthier diet. Consult your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise plan.


There are several reliable ways to determine if your body fat levels are higher than recommended, with DEXA scans being the most accurate option. Even without specialized testing, common signs of high body fat include having an obese BMI, excess belly fat, thick skin folds, a round body shape, and minimal muscle definition. Carrying too much fat raises your risk for many chronic diseases. Shedding excess fat through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle measures can greatly improve your health. Keep an eye on the warning signs and talk to your doctor if you think you may need to trim down your body fat percentage.