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Skinfold thickness. Skinfold thickness has traditionally been used to measure body fatness in athletes. The original validation studies in general populations were earned out using under-water weighing, or cadavers, as the ‘gold standard’ measure and there have been traditionally two main equations; that developed by Jackson and Pollock in 19813 using 3, 4 or 7 sites, and that developed by Dunlin and Womersley in 1974 using 4 sites. Measurements from these have then been extrapolated, perhaps unwisely, to estimate body fat percentage in normal populations.

Skinfold thickness is measured by the use of special calipers at certain sites on the body to measure the thickness of subcutaneous body fat. Calipers to measure skinfold thickness can range from a $10 plastic type to a $300 version and have been found to give different outcomes. Skinfold measurements are also extremely dependent on the experience of the measurer. Studies carried out comparing the effectiveness of measurers show that the variability even between experienced measurers can be anything up to 20 per cent.

Skinfolds appear to be reasonably useful measures of body fat in capable hands for adults between 10-40 per cent body fat, but may under-estimate fat in those over 40 per cent fat, Recently, extrapolation of skinfold thickness to percentage of body fat has largely been dropped in favour of just using the sum of skinfolds. This means that skinfolds are not necessarily an indication of percentage body fat, but the sum of skinfolds can give indications of relative changes in body fatness. In 1988 a conference on the standardisation of measurements was conducted in the US and from this a standardisation manual is now available giving 47 different anthopometric dimensions. For detailed reference on how to take these measures, this manual should be consulted. The main sites generally used are:

Biceps: Bicep skinfold is measured as the thickness of a vertical fold raised on the front part of the arm, midway along a vertical line joining the upper shoulder and the elbow joint.

Triceps: Tricep skinfold is measured in the midline at the back of the arm between the lateral projection of the shoulder and the elbow joint. The skinfold is measured with the arm hanging loosely and comfortably at the subject’s side.

Subscapular: This is picked on a diagonal level at approximately 45 degrees to the horizontal in the natural cleavage of the skin parallel to the lower scapular border. To find the site, the measurer can feel for the scapula, running the fingers around the border until the lower angle is identified. Another method is to bend the subject’s arm behind his or her back such that the scapula stands out. Apply the calipers 1cm away from the pinch raised by the finger and thumb.

Suprailiac: The suprailiac skinfold is measured in a line immediately above the iliac crest or upper hip, on the right hand side of the body. A fold of fat is grasped just above the hip in a midline along the body turned side-on. The fold taken should follow the natural cleavage of the skin at about a 45 degree angle.

Abdominal: Abdominal measurement should be done approximately 3cm lateral to the midpoint of the umbilicus (navel) and lcm below this. A horizontal skinfold should be raised with the left hand and its thickness measured to the nearest 0.1cm.

Thigh. Thigh skinfold is located at the midline of the front of the thigh, mid-way between the crease at the hip and the top of the patella, or kneecap. The subject should flex the hip to assist location of the hip, or inguinal crease. The skinfold is selected while the subject is standing but shifting the body weight to the other leg. Calipers should be about l cm lower than the finger pinch of the skinfold.


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