6
MIN READ
Are DEXA scans accurate for measuring body fat percentage?
DEXA scans can differentiate between subcutaneous and visceral fat.
Written by
Team Compound
Medically reviewed by
Team Compound
Last updated
May 13, 2024

It’s safe to say that most of us are armed with a sports watch or fitness tracker. From bands that count our steps to rings that provide insights into our performance progress and recovery, tracking our health metrics is valuable when working towards fitness goals or peak performance. 

But while these trackers can offer a brief insight into our fitness, the picture of health they provide is limited.

Much like the numbers on the scale do little to accurately reflect what’s going on under the skin, fitness trackers fall short of providing a detailed and nuanced picture of health. That’s where the DEXA scan succeeds, with the diagnostic tool measuring body composition, bone mineral density, fat mass, and muscle mass with exceptional accuracy. 

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or simply want to hit new fitness goals to achieve optimal health, the DEXA scan can accurately measure your body fat percentage to track progress and design an exercise program tailored to your data — this is where Compound comes in (more on that later).

Wondering what DEXA body composition scans tell you about body fat? In this helpful guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about this diagnostic tool and why the accurate data provided can help you target more specific health and fitness goals.

What does a DEXA scan measure?

A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan uses 2 low-energy X-ray beams to measure soft tissue and bone, providing a detailed assessment of bone density as well as body composition and the percentage of lean muscle mass and fat. 

In traditional healthcare, a DEXA scan is most commonly used to diagnose osteoporosis which involves a gradual loss or structural changes to the bone, causing it to become thinner, more fragile, and more susceptible to breaks [1].

However, a DEXA scan can also be used to measure a range of health conditions and preventative care.

These include:

  • Osteopenia: A condition that occurs when someone has lower-than-average bone density. 
  • Inflammatory forms of arthritis: Medications used to treat inflammatory forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to bone loss. A DEXA scan can help track the effectiveness of such treatments and assess the extent of bone loss. 
  • Certain cancers: Due to the need for treatment and medication that can affect bone mass, doctors may use a DEXA scan to monitor the effects of treatment on an individual’s bone mass throughout their cancer care. 
  • Body composition: Measurements obtained from a DEXA scan include total body fat percentage, total body muscle (lean) mass, total body fat mass, muscle and fat mass of each leg, arm, trunk, and abdomen, and fat distribution. This information can be used to create health and exercise goals that are specifically targeted to enhance individual performance and enhance longevity. 

What is body composition?

Body composition refers to the percentage of fat, bone, and muscle that make up an individual. Unlike your body mass index (BMI), which makes a simple calculation based on your height and weight to estimate body fat, body composition can differentiate fat mass and lean mass, making it a far more accurate measurement.

Body fat percentage is extremely important when it comes to overall health [2]. Muscular tissue is denser than fat, which makes the measurement of body fat crucial when determining overall composition. 

For example, 2 people may share the same body weight but have distinctly different physiques. This is due to differences in body composition, as someone with more muscular tissue will report a more toned, lean appearance than someone with more fat tissue.

Similarly, the difference in body composition will also manifest itself in different health issues. A higher body fat percentage will put greater strain on joints during weight-bearing activities like running, while a more athletic body fat percentage can enhance performance due to improved economy. 

Once you have an idea of what your body composition measurements look like, this is when you can start engaging in body recomposition activities.  

Are DEXA scans accurate for body fat?

When it comes to measuring body fat, the DEXA body composition scan is widely considered to be the gold standard in terms of accuracy. According to a 2022 study of body composition assessment, DEXA scans provide a highly accurate assessment of bone mineral content, lean body mass, and fat mass [3].

Researchers noted that, unlike other techniques, the DEXA scan is rapid, widely available, and relatively affordable. Measurements were also more accurate with DEXA compared to other bone-density-based methods. 

So, we know that DEXA scans accurately measure body fat, but what does the data tell us about our body composition and body fat? In providing a detailed assessment of your total body fat percentage, lean mass, and bone mineral density, you’ll have a greater understanding of the distribution of fat throughout your body.

The DEXA scan can differentiate between subcutaneous fat, which is located just beneath the skin and tends to collect on the thighs, bottom, and arms, and visceral fat, which surrounds organs and can be hard to see externally. 

It’s an important distinction with immediate health impacts. Though visceral fat may not be as visible as subcutaneous fat, it tends to wrap itself around organs like the pancreas and intestines.

Not surprisingly, a high amount of visceral fat is damaging to one’s health, as it can lead to glucose intolerances and type 2 diabetes, as well as increase the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer’s. 

How often should you have a DEXA scan?

When it comes to monitoring bone health, doctors recommend that those more at risk of osteoporosis have a DEXA scan every 1-2 years. However, for those who want to take a proactive approach to their health with the goal of longevity, regular DEXA scans are an invaluable tool as they allow you to monitor body composition and assess changes as they arise.

You’ll be able to tailor your exercise, diet, or training plan according to the data obtained and the results you wish to achieve. It can also be a helpful tool for those who are injured and undergoing rehabilitation, allowing you to monitor the injury and cross-training while recovering. 

What to expect from a DEXA scan

Despite its accuracy and detailed measurements, preparation for a DEXA scan is easy. You can even still eat and drink as usual on the day of the procedure.

However, if you are taking calcium supplements, you’ll need to stop taking them around 24 hours before the scan. The whole procedure is quick and painless, taking around 10-20 minutes. Depending on the area of your body being scanned, typically, you’ll remain fully clothed throughout. 

Before the scan

Before the scan, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown and remove any metal objects you're wearing, including jewellery, watches, and eyeglasses. It’s beneficial to wear loose-fitting clothing without zippers or metal. 

Typically, you’ll be asked to lie on the exam table as the technician places the imaging device above you and the X-ray generator below you. 

During the scan

As the imaging arm moves over you during the procedure, a beam of low-dose energy passes through. Remain still throughout the scan as it measures bone density and body composition.

If the focus is on the latter and body fat percentage, the machine will scan your entire body to check skinfold thickness at specific sites. Using an equation, the DEXA scan can use these measurements to calculate body fat percentage. 

After the scan

After the scan, you’ll be able to change into any clothes you may have removed before the procedure. Some technicians may ask you to complete a questionnaire regarding your medical history but otherwise, you’ll be free to go. 

Now that you know the efficiency of a DEXA scan and its accuracy in body composition measurement, you’re likely feeling impatient to receive your data. Whether you want to achieve your ideal body weight, gain muscle, lose fat, or simply make lifestyle changes, you're guaranteed to benefit from the advanced technology.

Thanks to Compound’s tailored health interventions and treatments for individuals, you can gain a greater understanding of your health with the use of DEXA scans. 

What is Compound exactly? Well, we’re a digital clinic for performance health. Once the exclusive domain of billionaires and Hollywood stars, we’re on a mission to make premium concierge care accessible to every man who wants more. 

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to health optimisation and preventative care to help men unlock barriers to everyday performance. 

Compound’s program is executed in 3 stages — starting with a suite of diagnostics to get the clearest picture of health you’ve ever had, using tools like DEXA scans, a VO2 max test and HbA1c blood testing. This is followed by a complete diet, health and training program, all guided by an expert health coach.

The final piece of the puzzle is medical treatment, supplements and hardware, like a CGM device, that you need to boost performance and meet your goals. 

Once you commit, our team is dedicated to ensuring you see returns. Your part won’t be easy but we’ll equip you for success like never before.

It’s safe to say that most of us are armed with a sports watch or fitness tracker. From bands that count our steps to rings that provide insights into our performance progress and recovery, tracking our health metrics is valuable when working towards fitness goals or peak performance. 

But while these trackers can offer a brief insight into our fitness, the picture of health they provide is limited.

Much like the numbers on the scale do little to accurately reflect what’s going on under the skin, fitness trackers fall short of providing a detailed and nuanced picture of health. That’s where the DEXA scan succeeds, with the diagnostic tool measuring body composition, bone mineral density, fat mass, and muscle mass with exceptional accuracy. 

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or simply want to hit new fitness goals to achieve optimal health, the DEXA scan can accurately measure your body fat percentage to track progress and design an exercise program tailored to your data — this is where Compound comes in (more on that later).

Wondering what DEXA body composition scans tell you about body fat? In this helpful guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about this diagnostic tool and why the accurate data provided can help you target more specific health and fitness goals.

What does a DEXA scan measure?

A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan uses 2 low-energy X-ray beams to measure soft tissue and bone, providing a detailed assessment of bone density as well as body composition and the percentage of lean muscle mass and fat. 

In traditional healthcare, a DEXA scan is most commonly used to diagnose osteoporosis which involves a gradual loss or structural changes to the bone, causing it to become thinner, more fragile, and more susceptible to breaks [1].

However, a DEXA scan can also be used to measure a range of health conditions and preventative care.

These include:

  • Osteopenia: A condition that occurs when someone has lower-than-average bone density. 
  • Inflammatory forms of arthritis: Medications used to treat inflammatory forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to bone loss. A DEXA scan can help track the effectiveness of such treatments and assess the extent of bone loss. 
  • Certain cancers: Due to the need for treatment and medication that can affect bone mass, doctors may use a DEXA scan to monitor the effects of treatment on an individual’s bone mass throughout their cancer care. 
  • Body composition: Measurements obtained from a DEXA scan include total body fat percentage, total body muscle (lean) mass, total body fat mass, muscle and fat mass of each leg, arm, trunk, and abdomen, and fat distribution. This information can be used to create health and exercise goals that are specifically targeted to enhance individual performance and enhance longevity. 

What is body composition?

Body composition refers to the percentage of fat, bone, and muscle that make up an individual. Unlike your body mass index (BMI), which makes a simple calculation based on your height and weight to estimate body fat, body composition can differentiate fat mass and lean mass, making it a far more accurate measurement.

Body fat percentage is extremely important when it comes to overall health [2]. Muscular tissue is denser than fat, which makes the measurement of body fat crucial when determining overall composition. 

For example, 2 people may share the same body weight but have distinctly different physiques. This is due to differences in body composition, as someone with more muscular tissue will report a more toned, lean appearance than someone with more fat tissue.

Similarly, the difference in body composition will also manifest itself in different health issues. A higher body fat percentage will put greater strain on joints during weight-bearing activities like running, while a more athletic body fat percentage can enhance performance due to improved economy. 

Once you have an idea of what your body composition measurements look like, this is when you can start engaging in body recomposition activities.  

Are DEXA scans accurate for body fat?

When it comes to measuring body fat, the DEXA body composition scan is widely considered to be the gold standard in terms of accuracy. According to a 2022 study of body composition assessment, DEXA scans provide a highly accurate assessment of bone mineral content, lean body mass, and fat mass [3].

Researchers noted that, unlike other techniques, the DEXA scan is rapid, widely available, and relatively affordable. Measurements were also more accurate with DEXA compared to other bone-density-based methods. 

So, we know that DEXA scans accurately measure body fat, but what does the data tell us about our body composition and body fat? In providing a detailed assessment of your total body fat percentage, lean mass, and bone mineral density, you’ll have a greater understanding of the distribution of fat throughout your body.

The DEXA scan can differentiate between subcutaneous fat, which is located just beneath the skin and tends to collect on the thighs, bottom, and arms, and visceral fat, which surrounds organs and can be hard to see externally. 

It’s an important distinction with immediate health impacts. Though visceral fat may not be as visible as subcutaneous fat, it tends to wrap itself around organs like the pancreas and intestines.

Not surprisingly, a high amount of visceral fat is damaging to one’s health, as it can lead to glucose intolerances and type 2 diabetes, as well as increase the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer’s. 

How often should you have a DEXA scan?

When it comes to monitoring bone health, doctors recommend that those more at risk of osteoporosis have a DEXA scan every 1-2 years. However, for those who want to take a proactive approach to their health with the goal of longevity, regular DEXA scans are an invaluable tool as they allow you to monitor body composition and assess changes as they arise.

You’ll be able to tailor your exercise, diet, or training plan according to the data obtained and the results you wish to achieve. It can also be a helpful tool for those who are injured and undergoing rehabilitation, allowing you to monitor the injury and cross-training while recovering. 

What to expect from a DEXA scan

Despite its accuracy and detailed measurements, preparation for a DEXA scan is easy. You can even still eat and drink as usual on the day of the procedure.

However, if you are taking calcium supplements, you’ll need to stop taking them around 24 hours before the scan. The whole procedure is quick and painless, taking around 10-20 minutes. Depending on the area of your body being scanned, typically, you’ll remain fully clothed throughout. 

Before the scan

Before the scan, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown and remove any metal objects you're wearing, including jewellery, watches, and eyeglasses. It’s beneficial to wear loose-fitting clothing without zippers or metal. 

Typically, you’ll be asked to lie on the exam table as the technician places the imaging device above you and the X-ray generator below you. 

During the scan

As the imaging arm moves over you during the procedure, a beam of low-dose energy passes through. Remain still throughout the scan as it measures bone density and body composition.

If the focus is on the latter and body fat percentage, the machine will scan your entire body to check skinfold thickness at specific sites. Using an equation, the DEXA scan can use these measurements to calculate body fat percentage. 

After the scan

After the scan, you’ll be able to change into any clothes you may have removed before the procedure. Some technicians may ask you to complete a questionnaire regarding your medical history but otherwise, you’ll be free to go. 

Now that you know the efficiency of a DEXA scan and its accuracy in body composition measurement, you’re likely feeling impatient to receive your data. Whether you want to achieve your ideal body weight, gain muscle, lose fat, or simply make lifestyle changes, you're guaranteed to benefit from the advanced technology.

Thanks to Compound’s tailored health interventions and treatments for individuals, you can gain a greater understanding of your health with the use of DEXA scans. 

What is Compound exactly? Well, we’re a digital clinic for performance health. Once the exclusive domain of billionaires and Hollywood stars, we’re on a mission to make premium concierge care accessible to every man who wants more. 

We take a multi-disciplinary approach to health optimisation and preventative care to help men unlock barriers to everyday performance. 

Compound’s program is executed in 3 stages — starting with a suite of diagnostics to get the clearest picture of health you’ve ever had, using tools like DEXA scans, a VO2 max test and HbA1c blood testing. This is followed by a complete diet, health and training program, all guided by an expert health coach.

The final piece of the puzzle is medical treatment, supplements and hardware, like a CGM device, that you need to boost performance and meet your goals. 

Once you commit, our team is dedicated to ensuring you see returns. Your part won’t be easy but we’ll equip you for success like never before.

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