The Pitfalls of Body Fat “Measurement”, Part 3: Bod Pod

Last week I told you how body fat testing is a prediction, not a measurement.  I also talked about the 2-compartment model, its limitations, and how hydrostatic weighing is reasonably accurate for groups but can have an error rate of as high as 6% in individuals.

Hydrostatic weighing isn't the only 2-compartment model out there.  Here I will discuss another 2-compartment model:  the Bod Pod.

Bod Pod = Bad

The Bod Pod is based on similar principles to underwater weighing; thus you would think it would have similar error rates.  In some instances, this is true; one study found error rates of about 2% on average, but errors of up to 6% in individuals.  However, other research on the Bod Pod has shown error rates higher than underwater weighing; one study found an average difference of 5.3% between the Bod Pod and a 4-compartment model, and an error rate of up to 15% in individuals!

One of the reasons the Bod Pod is worse than underwater weighing is because there are more variables that can affect the results.  For example, facial hair, body temperature, moisture, and the tightness of the spandex or swimsuit can all alter the results.

And, like underwater weighing, the Bod Pod can have errors when tracking changes over time.  In fact, one study showed the Bod Pod to be very poor at tracking changes over time.  Here's a chart from that study:

Changes in % body fat, comparing Bod Pod to a 4-compartment model

The X-axis of this chart shows the change in % body fat for the Bod Pod, while the Y-axis shows the change for the 4-compartment model.  Each circle is an individual subject.  You can see the big disparity between the two method.  For example, one person gained 10% body fat but showed a loss of 1% with the Bod Pod.  Another person lost nearly 10% bodyfat but showed only a loss of 1% with the Bod Pod.  Another person lost about 5% body fat but showed a loss of 11% with the Bod Pod.

Do you see that "R squared = 0" statement in the chart?  Do you also see the flat line in the chart?  That means there was no relationship between changes observed with the 4-compartment model and changes observed with the Bod Pod.  There was practically no agreement between the two methods.  This means the Bod Pod is horrible at assessing changes within individuals over time.  Now compare this chart to the one from last week on hydrostatic weighing.  You can see that hydrostatic weighing did much better; even though there's some large error within certain people with hydrostatic weighing, there is at least reasonable agreement between hydrostatic weighing and a 4-compartment model in most people.

The Bod Pod:  The Verdict

The Bod Pod does OK when looking at group averages, with some studies showing error rates of around 2%; however, other studies have indicated average error rates of over 5%.  The individual error rate for the Bod Pod can be unacceptably high in some individuals, and the Bod Pod is horrible for tracking change over time.  For these reasons I would recommend against using the Bod Pod as a body composition assessment tool.  Hydrostatic weighing, despite some of its problems, is much more reliable.

Underwater weighing and the Bod Pod are not as widely available as other techniques, such as bioelectrical impedance (BIA) or skinfolds.  Click here to read Part 4 of this series, where I discuss the accuracy, err, I mean inaccuracy, of BIA...


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Marina
Marina
6 years ago

I am 120 lbs, 5 ft 4.5 inch female and it said I was obese. It said 33.4% body fat which I find absurd. I eat healthy and lift weight and do cardio 3- 4 times a week. I can do “real” push-ups and have visibly defined abs. My clothes are all size 0 or 2. How is it possible that I’m obese?

John M
6 years ago
Reply to  Marina

Yes Marina that is absurd. You seem very fit and healthy probably with a bodyfat % in the 18% – 20% range or less. Keep in mind that essential body fat % levels for women (10-12%) is higher than men (2-4%) with athletes around 14-20% for women and 6-13% for men so if you test out at 20-22% you are still very fit. Sounds like you have a good routine, keep knocking out those pushups!

Ryan
Ryan
6 years ago

I was tested by the BOD POD and my first test came out as 1% body fat. Given the fact that they say you need at least 3-5% essential body fat I called them up. When they retested me again I rang in at just 2.7%. I dont do any crazy diets, I just eat healthy and even cheat on the weekends and work out 1 1/2 hrs about 5-6 times a week. So in my case going back the same day and tested did prove to be fairly accurate.

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Ryan

1%BF? 2.7%BF? Connor McGregor was texted with DEXA on youtube, and clocked in at 7%BF, in fighting trim. Use calipers, BIA, and round up 45%. Test with DEXA and/or hydrostatic, then report back what you find.

AG
AG
6 years ago

One thing to consider with the reference to the 4-compartment model is that it to is not perfect. In fact in the 4 compartment model it may consider the following: 1. DXA used to determine Bone Density (studies have shown statistically significant differences in bone density measurements depending on hardware and software used) – 1 source of potential error 2. Bodpod or UWW used to determine Body Volume. Some potential source of small error 3. Total Body water – through Deterium solution or some other method (BIA has been used here too) – some source of error 4. Total Body… Read more »

Bob Gendler
7 years ago

I did the BodPod this weekend and it clocked me in at 25% bodyfat. Which absolutely blew my mind. I can’t understand how that’s possible. Other tests have always clocked me in at HALF of that. I’ve done calipers, infra-red test (http://www.futrex.com/62.html), even the BIA’s only clock me in at like 15-16% bodyfat. This picture is from 1 week ago…tell me it’s 25% bodyfat comment image

So the BodPod gets a big thumbs down from me.

mikeinoz
mikeinoz
6 years ago
Reply to  Bob Gendler

Sorry to say but 25 % does look about right to me. I see a lot of muscle bulk but very little definition to me.

Lacen Valor
Lacen Valor
5 years ago
Reply to  mikeinoz

25% looks right.

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Gendler

Caliper formulas and BIA measures bypass the large store of visceral fat stored within the abdominal cavity. for an average sized male (my own experience) the number from either method must be rounded up approx 45% to provide an estimate of visceral fat. If your BIA shows 16%, that correction for visceral fat would give you 23.5-24BF%. To illustrate, multiple BIA tests on different machines had given me numbers ranging from 16.5-17.8%. DEXA gave me 26.2% four days ago, which was much higher than I had expected, just like you. To cross reference, I am booked for a different DEXA… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Gendler

Bob. other studies have shown BodPod to read high for underweight or muscular individuals. the 25% reading may be slightly high, perhaps by 1-2%. I read in that same study that BodPod works well for “average weight” builds. and will read low for overweight or obese folks. My personal experience with BIA shows that I had to round up the BIA numbers by 40-45% to match my DEXA result. This is because calipers and BIA does not account for visceral fat in the abdomen. If your BIA shows 15%, then rounding up by 40% gives you 24%. My guess is… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Gendler

Bob: in my experience, for fit indiduals the bod-pod will be approx 10% too high. my experience with home and commercial four-point BIAs show the results need to be rounded up 35-45% to match a DEXA. Two months ago I had two dexas taken that showed me at 26%, the BODPOD had me at 28.9%. At the time you posted the photo, you had good muscle mass, but poor definition which shows a good layer of surface adipose. meaning you are above 20%. taking 10% off the bod-pod, gives you 22-22.5%, which is probably where you are at the time… Read more »

Jay
Jay
7 years ago

Yes, I had a similar experience with the bodpod. I did a mobile hydrostatic test that came in at 15.9%. The guy who did it looked at me and said this seemed really high. I then went to my nutritionist who measured me at 10.7% using BMI electrodes. The bodpod test put me at 20% which was insane. I am incredibly lean, stronger than I’ve ever been, and really shocking to see such varying results. Definitely don’t rely on a number.

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Jay. an academic study surveyed the accuracy of BodPod vs Dexa. The main difference being DEXA is able to directly measure bone mass. Their results were that BodPod was quite accurate for “average non-obese” bodytimes, they gave high BF% readings for underweight or “very fit” people, and underestimated BF% for overweight people. my experience is that BIA does not measure visceral fat, and the figure must be rounded up about 45% for a male (myself) to get a better number. Rounding up your BIA number gives about 15%, very close to your hydrostatic results. For reference, my BIA results were… Read more »

Deb
Deb
7 years ago

I’m one of the statistical anomalies… If you’d like to read about my story and experience, I’ve shared it on my blog.

No matter what, after changing my diet and physical training to be the best it can possibly be, I cannot allow a number that a machine spits out as the definition of my success in changing my health and performance for the better.

http://www.painfreeposturemn.com/BLOG/bid/142525/Is-it-All-About-the-Numbers-My-CrossFit-Whole9-90-Day-Challenge

I was encouraged to find this site.

Deb
Deb
7 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Thanks James. I appreciate hearing from you and your support. Hopefully by sharing my experience I can help someone else.

Frank
7 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

So when someone shares an anecdote that supports your side, you thank them, but when someone shares an anecdote that goes against your argument, you refer them to studies and discredit their experience. I’m confused by this inconsistency.

CPTBlatt
CPTBlatt
8 years ago

Just got mine done today. I am a personal trainer/former fitness competitor and my body fat on the Bod Pod was 28% this morning. I weigh 143lbs, 5’6″ and I am very strong. I didn’t really believe it, especially because I have always been around 20% according to 7-site skinfold tests.

My client on the other hand, had an accurate read out and RMR (using calculations from her diet and weightloss).

Julia
Julia
7 years ago
Reply to  CPTBlatt

BOD POD & hydrostatic weighing SHOULD give a higher number than skinfolds, which only take into account the subcutaneous fat. Bod Pod and hydrostatic weighing are looking at intramuscular fat and fat surrounding organs as well. Also, consider that people carry subcutaneous fat weight in different areas of the body that even a seven-site skinfold can’t possibly estimate accurately. For example, a woman who has a large behind/sizeable breasts will have a higher reading with hydrostatic weighing/air displacement plethysmography because those areas are not sites used during skinfold tests.

Just something to think about.

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  CPTBlatt

CPTBlatt: are you male or female? I assume from your stats that you are female. depending on your adipose genetics, 28% for a female is equivalent to the low 20s% for a male. Unless you are under 25-30 years old, this is still a very healthy and acceptable level of BF% for an adult female. 20% for a female is not realistic and shows the error in the caliper system and formulas. for reference, a journal article measured female college varsity team athletes, and track sprinters had 15%BF, and members of the swimming team averaged at 22%BF. skinfold and BIA… Read more »

Mark
Mark
8 years ago

The ease of use of the Bod Pod compared to underwater weighing is not a minor factor. #1- water weighing is a lot harder to find than even a Bod Pod, and if you’ve never done it, is not that comfortable of an experience. The key is consistency in readings, having done at least 5 tests myself over the course of a year, I’ve found it to be inline with the results I was seeing. Is it foolproof? No, and no method is, except for one… an autopsy. If someone is going to get that hung up on #’s perpaps… Read more »

Cameron Bishop
5 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Your article has no more credibility that the Globe Magazine sold at the grocery check out counter claiming that aliens have landed. As a 37 year professional in the technical media industry, I have extensive experience as publisher of medical and peer reviewed journals and countless other technical magazines. I am embarrassed and appalled at the shoddy reporting and shameful attempt at sensationalism with your “Bod Pod=Bad” headline. If you had worked for me, I would fire you over this drivel. Tragically, like so, so many wannabe journalists today, you chose to selectively latch on to certain aspects of ONE… Read more »

J. Lucas, M.S., Ph.D.
J. Lucas, M.S., Ph.D.
4 years ago
Reply to  James Krieger

Let me be brief. Mr. Bishop seems to be quite ignorant on this matter and seems to let emotion instead of science lead him/her to conclusions. On the other hand, James seems to make a very sound argument. I applaud him for that. I know that it is only anecdotal evidence but my experience with the Bod Pod was great…..until I tracked by body fat changes over time. For the sake of time, the Bod Pod indicated that I had gained body fat and lost 10 pounds of lean mass over a 60 day period. That did not seem to… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Cameron Bishop

Mr. Bishop. Before you denigrate anyone’s credibility, the first question I have to ask you, is “have you done any or all of the testing?” I had my first hydrostatic done yesterday. I drove three hours to get it done. I had two dexas done two months ago, and a bod-pod done on the same morning as one of the DEXAs. i’ve used three commercial BIAs, and have two at-home BIA scales (one two-point, one four-point). I’m flying to LA at the end of this month, and will have a DEXA performed there. Within a week of my return, I… Read more »

Mike
Mike
8 years ago

As with dee this is the first article that I have found that recommends against using the Bod Pod for testing. Some of the accuracy that is mentioned in the article can be controlled like any other scientific test, since your are only testing one thing, body fat, you have to remove any other variables that could alter the results. Your first test is your baseline and your future test will show your progress. This means for your next test you need to try and present yourself as close as possible as you did for your first test, that means… Read more »

MacMadame
9 years ago

I wish I had read this before I wasted $45 to get a BodPod analysis done that was clearly ridiculous. I only did BodPod because it was more convenient than the dunk tank (which I don’t mind at all) and cheaper than a DEXA scan. But I never would have done it if I knew it’s accuracy was so far off compared to those methods.

dee
dee
8 years ago
Reply to  MacMadame

MacMAdame, I wouldnt call it a waste. If it’s the best you’ve got then its the best you’ve got. I am finding the BodPod is more available than hydrostatic and we know its more accurate than BIA and calipers. You use the tools available to you. Personally, I know several people who use the BodPod regularly and a couple of them decided to seek out hydrostatic to compare and the results were very close give or take 1%. But if given a choice, hydrostatic is the most accurate. I did a bit of research before my first BodPod and during… Read more »

MacMadame
8 years ago
Reply to  dee

Eh, I could have done the dunk tank. There is one in my area. I was just being lazy because it’s harder to schedule with them via their web site than the BodPod place.

I think part of the problem is that I had on a bathing suit that is reversible so it was double thickness from a normal suit and also it probably had air trapped between the two layers. No one told me that this would make a difference or I would have worn a different suit.

matt
matt
7 years ago
Reply to  MacMadame

Test preparation should be reviewed before any test, but loose clothing, beyond what is recommended will indeed impact results. Conveniently this person leaves out the buoyancy error of the hydro-static and how many attempts it takes to get used to being shoved under water without any air in their lungs…..why NIH gave out grant for BOD POD per the Bod pod website. If it is so bad I wonder why is it used by so many on their user list which is quite impressive…all Mayo Clinics, NIH, Cleveland Clinic, NFL Combine, etc…. I wonder what this one person knows that… Read more »

matt
matt
7 years ago
Reply to  matt

things that make you go hmmm?

Nicolas
Nicolas
3 years ago
Reply to  dee

More accurate than calipers? I have been using the same calipers my coached used in the 80’s and they are for more accurate than some of the most unusable technology to date. I’ve tried the bodpod which puts me at a 22% body fat which I know wasn’t accurate. So my MD, athletic trainer and personal trainer had me at 13-14%. and I requested (7 site) caliper testing because I use the same method on all my own clients and it’s generally a 2% margin of error, which I can live with.

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Nicolas

Nic. If you do a review of the literature, AND have actually used the various systems, you will find that you’re more likely in the 21-24% range, rather than the 13-14% range you are being told. There are some basic reasons for this: BIA (impedance) and caliper readings have no way of measuring visceral fat buried within the abdominal cavity. This is a huge reservoir of adipose that from my personal experience and research is approx an additional 40-45% above what is measured subcutaneously (by BIA and calipers). Caliper formulas were established without accounting for visceral fat, so although the… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
3 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

reply-back, repost back. Two months ago I had my first DEXA taken, 26.6% one week later, i had a second DEXA, and a bod-pod on the same day: Dexa-2 was 26.2%, bodpod was 28.9%. I probably lost 1lb of fat/187 or about 0.5% in the intervening week. four-point BIA readings from Inbody machines seem to need rounding up by about 40% to match the Dexa. two-point BIA readings from an older Taneda BF-626 scale needs rounding up by about 20% to match Dexa. yesterday I had my first hydrostatic test. It gave 17.8% which I venture is low by about… Read more »

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