Can a new body volume indicator mobile application help you manage your health?

Image courtesy of Stacey Geiger

We all ‘know’ that eating a balanced diet and undertaking regular exercise can help us to healthy. And, we may well use mobile application (apps), such as MyFitnessPal, FatSecret or Fitbit to help us in making and managing our choices. But, whilst these two issues are key to developing a healthy and active lifestyle, there is also other information about our bodies that can help us in deciding what is important for us or if there are indicators that suggest we need to seek professional advice. Total body fat and visceral (the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs) levels are two such key figures that can help us understand our health and if there are changes that we need to make. However, unlike data on calorie intake, levels of activity, weight and height, gaining information of these issues means accessing measuring devices that most people do not have.

Select Research, based in Malvern, are recognised as a world leading company in 3D human body measurement, pioneering the use of 3D scanning in healthcare, wellness and fitness. In recent years, Select Research has applied 3D scanning to the measurement of obesity and its associated risks to our health. This has been achieved using the Body Volume System. The company’s expertise is now taking a step forward in terms of accessibility through its creation of the BVI App.

The BVI app uses information on your height and weight, an assessment of your activity levels and the camera in your smartphone (and a mirror or a friend) to look at your body shape. It does this by assessing a front-on and side view and then takes the information to calculate your total body and visceral fat levels. This may sound a little farfetched and you might ask but how accurate can that be? This is a reasonable question, given that most of the other technologies that assess body and visceral fat do so by passing a weak electrical signal through your body and develop measures based on how the electricity flows through you – the different elements such as muscle, water, bone and fat in your body affecting its transmission.

The University of Gloucestershire Business School was asked to conduct validation research for this revolutionary mobile application. The purpose was to compare the findings of the mobile app with traditional bio-impedance machines to determine the consistency between methods. Over 180 people gave up around 20 minutes each to be measured by the app and three other bio-impedance machines (Huawei, Omron and Tanita), as well as have their height, weight, hip and waists measured.

The BVI app provides total body and visceral fat results that are generally similar to bio-impedance machines. And, when participants used clear definitions to help them understand their activity levels, there was no difference in the results from the app and from the bio-impedance machines. As the BVI app provides visceral fat results in litres, rather than on the varied scales used by the other devices, it was easier for participants to understand how much of this type of fat was present in their bodies (thinking about it as litre soft drinks bottles made visualisation easier – if not always welcome). Knowing about this level of fat can be particularly helpful for those people who look ‘thin’ but actually have high levels of visceral fat, as can understanding that you have a high level of total body fat even if you are not overweight – so called ‘skinny fat’.

The BVI App provides a simple user experience and can be used as a more efficient and portable alternative for BIA devices for health and wellness monitoring. The next step will be the commercial launch of the app and its incorporation with other health and wellness platforms and metrics to help individuals and health professionals assess total and visceral fat as part of looking after our wellbeing. Whoever thought the next ‘selfie’ you take would help you understand your body composition!

Dr. Philippa Ward

With over 25 years of retail and academic experience, Philippa’s research centres on the effects of the in-store environment on customers, de-shopping, and retail theatre. Philippa is a Head of the Marketing and Retail Analysis Research Centre – where research on issues including consumer behaviour and services marketing is located.

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