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How Reliable Is The Scale For Our Weight?

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(credit: CBS) Natalie Nyhus
Natalie Nyhus joined the WCCO-TV team in January of 2011. She anchors...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Most of us go through the battle of the bulge at one point or another. Stepping on and off the scale, many worry about what that number staring back will be.

But when it comes to your physical health, how much do you rely on the number you see on the scales? One doctor at Fairview clinics is telling his patients to forget that number, because it could be doing you no good.

“You cannot look at someone off the street and look at them and say, they are skinny and they are healthy,” Fairview Clinics’ Dr. Chris Balgobin said. “I have patients who are very thin but their cholesterol is through the roof, they have high blood pressure, they are inactive or smoke.  They are a walking time bomb, the same as a person who is 350 pounds.”

The body mass index (BMI) has been the long-time tool of physicians for measuring a person’s shape and in turn, their health. It’s a measure based on height and weight.

“Weight is just one marker.  I always like to use this example.  Adrian Peterson, running back for the Vikings. He is considered overweight on a BMI scale.  Look at his body fat.  He’s like 5 to 7 percent body fat, which is phenomenal,” Balgobin said. “He is a healthy athlete.  But on the BMI scale, he’s unhealthy.  You’re going to tell this guy to lose weight?  No.”

Balgobin is shunning the scale in favor of the DEXA scan. It is a 99 percent accurate measure of body fat that even shows exactly where you carry it. The DEXA scan is not covered by insurance, but anyone can buy a scan. A package of five costs $100, and you don’t have to be a Fairview patient.

“As I’ve gone through this journey, I’ve learned a lot of things. Things they don’t teach you in medical school,” Balgobin said. “Now I’m more focused on my body fat percentage than by what my scale says.”

Balgobin says he knows firsthand the challenges with weight loss.

“I’ve always been the big kid all my life.  I’ve played sports all of my life, was athletic, but was always big,” he said. “Unfortunately, it runs in my family.”

After welcoming his second child in 2007, he decided to lose weight through diet and exercise. In 10 months, he lost 122 pounds. Balgobin monitors his weight with body scans.

“I haven’t been able to maintain that amount of weight loss because my change has been more about body composition than weight,” he said.

The results are sent to a computer and then printed for a doctor’s review. For men, the safe range for body fat is 20 to 25 percent. For women, it’s upper 20s to mid 30s.

“I think people are afraid to know too much data about themselves, so that’s why they don’t come to the doctor,” Balgobin said. “It’s very nerve wracking to face what you may have because it tells you that you may have to change their life.”

So instead of fearing that glaring number on the scale, perhaps a scan and percentage is easier to process.

“This is more than weight loss, this is about overall health,” Balgobin said.

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