fitness · gadgets · gear

Should I buy a belly fat measuring machine for $379? an FAQ for you

January is not just the month of motivation; it’s also the month of measurement. Yes, we join gyms, buy equipment and sign up for 8-12 week programs to transform our bodies. We’re also pushed to take stock of what we’ve got going, from head to toe. We are expected to weigh and measure ourselves in every dimension, and at arbitrary levels of precision. Why all this detail? It’s not as if we’re planning on mailing ourselves to Argentina. Are these numbers helpful to us in pursuing our physical activity and health-according-to-us lives?

On the one hand, numbers can provide us with concrete information. I’m reminded of my absolute favorite New Yorker cartoon:

Numbers sitting in a police interrogation room. One guy says to the police, Look, the numbers don't lie.
Look, the numbers don’t lie. This always cracks me up.

On the other hand, numbers don’t always mean what we might think they mean. Case in point: the Bello belly-fat scanner.

The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.
The Bello belly fat scanner, in its box and out in nature.

Bello is supposed to tell you how much belly fat you have, rate you based on it (ranging from best to worst– really!), and then offer you tips on what to do about it. The tips include “exercise more” and “eat more vegetables”. All for the low low price of $379. How could you say no?

Well, that’s what we at Fit is a Feminist Issue are here for. As a part of our consumer products debunking division services, here’s an FAQ about Bello (and probably other so-called belly fat scanners).

  1. Should I buy this thing? NO.
  2. Why not? There are a bunch of reasons.

First, It says false things in its advertising. On its indigogo page, it says, “subcutaneous fat is a big issue, and an indicator of a number of metabolic issues, like diabetes and heart disease”. This isn’t true. Visceral fat (not subcutaneous fat) is a standard indicator of risk of metabolic disorders. How do I know this? I read about it in this journal article:

In contrast to visceral fat, it is reported that subcutaneous fat might even be beneficial against metabolic abnormalities…the relative distribution of body fat might be more important than visceral fat area (VFA) or subcutaneous fat area (SFA).

There’s also this article’s info, which contradicts Bello central:

no studies to date have explored the relationship between DXA-assessed SFM and T2DM.  Which means: using the state-of-the-art medical Dexa scanners (which cost considerably more than $379), there haven’t been studies looking for a relationship between subcutaneous belly fat and type 2 diabetes. So they can’t say there’s a relationship at all between the two.

Second, it’s not clear that Bello accurately measures either subcutaneous or visceral fat. It predicts them, based on its proprietary technology. Here is one of the messages it displays, which doesn’t list percentage of visceral or subcutaneous fat.

Bello app showing 89% outer fat, which is bad according to Bello.. I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be.
I have no idea what outer fat is supposed to be. But it certainly looks bad here.

It may be able to predict overall belly fat. But belly fat, in and of itself, isn’t an indicator of medical disorders. And, according to the studies I’ve read, it’s the ratio of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat that is more predictive of medical risk for various populations. Bello doesn’t and can’t provide that. So, whatever measures it gives you aren’t that meaningful in assessing medical risk. To assess your risk for various metabolic disorders, we need a lot more precise information. This includes information that medical research knows it needs but doesn’t have yet. Like this, from another journal article:

…abdominal fat distribution defines distinct obesity sub-phenotypes with heterogeneous metabolic and atherosclerosis risk.

And this, too, from yet another article:

These observations suggest that clinically relevant sub-phenotypes of obesity can be defined by abdominal fat distribution, supporting the notion of obesity as a heterogeneous disorder with varying cardiac and metabolic manifestations.

What do these quotes mean? Just this: the researchers believe that, among populations with BMI>30, groups with different body types and also different distributions of abdominal fat will have different types and degrees of risk of future medical problems. They don’t have the full picture yet, but are working on it bit by bit.

3. Will Bello help me spot reduce fat on/in/around my belly? NO.

Bello suggests that it will help you reduce your belly fat by using their device every day and following the advice on their app. However, it’s not possible to do spot-reducing of fat. How do I know this? I have to admit, this time I just asked Google, and it said:

Targeted fat loss, often refered to as spot reduction, is not possible and there’s no solid scientific evidence to suggest that you can burn fat on specific areas of your body.

Thanks, Google.

4. Just out of curiosity, how many colors does it come in? WHITE ONLY.

5. Suppose I want to keep track of my belly size but don’t want to spend $379. What do you suggest? Funny you should ask. Here’s one idea:

A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.
A nice full-length mirror. Prices start at $7.

Here’s another idea:

Don't worry! Be happy!
Don’t worry! Be happy!

6. Does the blog have any other targeted advice about bellies? WHY YES WE DO.

Check out Natalie’s post about belly patrolling, which celebrates her belly and bellies in general. Sam wrote about lizards loving their bellies, and what we can learn from them. There are plenty more where that came from– for more belly love posts, look here.

3 thoughts on “Should I buy a belly fat measuring machine for $379? an FAQ for you

  1. Even if I believed that Bello could measure something useful, I think that its mysterious “scores” and “percentages” would drive me nuts! What does 89.0% Outer Fat mean? 89% of what? At what percent does one go from “Worst” to “Bad” or “Bad” to “Good”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Srsly. There’s no general graph to tell us which body fat percentages (of what, I wonder) are good, not good, bad, and worst. This doesn’t exist. There’s simply not knowledge out there according to which some person can determine their risk for all sorts of medical conditions, even supposing that their visceral and subcutaneous body fat ratios were accurately registered. Medical risk doesn’t work that way, and medical research hasn’t reached that level of knowledge. Which is to say, We don’t know this! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      Like

      1. It is, in fact, a totally arbitrary measurement of to what degree “they” think you “should” change. More intellectually honest to say it’s a “shame quotient” than a pseudoscientific % outer fat. . . “You should feel bad, really really bad.”

        Liked by 1 person

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