Are smart scales accurate? Low-tech versus high-tech health and wellness equipment

DENVER -- The health and wellness industry is a billion-dollar industry. And it seems almost every day, we hear of a new diet trend or high tech device to help you lose weight or look better.

Some are medical grade equipment and can be expensive, while others you can buy at the store and use at home. We decided to test out smart scales to see if they really work.

To do so, we caught up with Suzie Glassman. Turning 40 was on the horizon and she was ready for a change.

"I was somewhere around 30% body fat," Glassman said. "The older you get the harder it is to keep muscle and so I was just trying to work with a program that would incorporate some strength training and things of that nature so I could keep muscle but also lose fat."

And she wanted to know exactly where she started, so she reached out to the experts at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

"Dexa was originally used to measure bone density," said Dr. Marc-Andre Cornier.

But now Dr. Cornier offers it to his patients who want to lose weight.

The Dexa scan takes six minutes and passes over your body seven times. Once the scan has been completed, you get a print out of your body.

“With Dexa we get the full total body fat, muscle mass, but we can also see where it is distributed," Cornier said.

If you see yellow on the scan, it’s body fat. Glassman’s goal was to reduce that.

"We are so often stuck on this number, the weight, when at the end of the day we don't care as much about their weight, we care about their overall wellness and also more about are they losing fat,” Cornier said.

So what about the scales you may you have at home?

“Some of these scales can give you false information,” Cornier said.

We decided to put three smart scales to the test and see for ourselves. We purchased the Fit Bit Smart Scale, a scale for Weight Gurus and another by Weight Watchers.

We couldn’t get the Fit Bit scale to show us body fat or even sync with the app we downloaded onto our smart phone.

Next, we tried the Weight Gurus and Weight Watchers scales. Both showed body fat was only 0.2% different from one scale to the next.  As far as weight, it was 0.1 pound difference, until we moved one scale just a few inches on the floor.

"Wow, now it says I weigh 133,” Glassman said. “That's weird, all I did was move it forward."

Just that added four pounds.  And Glassman says that’s where the problem lies.

”When you are looking at a scale that can be highly variable, it can just play a mental game with you,” she said.    

And if you are using a basic scale without the option of assessing body fat, there’s a danger.

“Some individuals can go to the gym and not lose any weight but what they are doing is they are losing fat, but they are gaining muscle so at the end of the day the scale doesn't say anything different,” Cornier said.

So if you decide to use a smart scale at home rather than medical grade equipment like Dexa, both Cornier and Glassman say don’t take it literally. Look for the trend, they say. If your percentage of body fat is going down, that’s good. 

“I don't know the body fat that the scale gives you is all that accurate, but I could see the trend,” said Glassman.

But if you want to know exactly and accurately what your body fat is, you may want to use the medical grade equipment.
        
For more information on the body composition and sports technologies available at University of Colorado, Anschutz Health and Wellness, click here.

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