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Body Fat Analyzer Becoming a Household Item

December 2, 1998

A customer tries out an analyzer before buying.

Nowadays, almost everyone in Japan has heard of body fat analyzers. Home-use versions of these devices for measuring body fat percentage have come out on the market at affordable prices, and have become a hot topic in magazines, which urge the health-conscious population to buy a personal unit; a 1998 television commercial featuring top tennis player Martina Hingis spread the word even further. The body fat analyzer has struck a chord with the Japanese public, and seems set to become a familiar household item as indispensable as the thermometer and bathroom scale.

Lower Prices
The term "body fat" came to be widely known in 1992 when scale maker Tanita Corp. developed a simple-to-operate body fat analyzer for medical use. Although this product gathered much media attention, it was targeted at hospitals and medical clinics and priced at 485,000 yen (4,040 U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar). After Tanita came up with its first home-use version in 1994, with the price considerably lowered to 45,000 yen (375 dollars), newer models followed one after another. They can now be bought at around 10,000 yen (83 dollars).

"Body fat" refers to all of the fat in a person's body: not only the subcutaneous fat under the skin--which is plainly visible since it accumulates on such places as the stomach and under the upper arms--but the less obvious visceral fat around the internal organs as well. Body fat analyzers provide the only way to quickly assess this visceral fat at home.

The debut of home-use analyzers brought media attention to this body fat. TV shows and magazines on health care and fashion began focusing on the topic of "hidden obesity," seen in people who appear to be slim but have fatty organs. Body fat analyzers thus became a hit. Industry experts estimate that about 2 million units will be sold during fiscal 1998 (April 1998 to March 1999)--a 30% increase from the previous year.

Uncovering the Hidden Fat
Most analyzers estimate the amount of body fat by bioelectrical impedance--measuring the body's resistance to a weak electric current that is passed through it. This method makes use of the fact that fat tissue has a much higher resistance to electricity than muscle tissue. Assessing body fat reveals the hidden fat around people's internal organs, thus providing improved knowledge of their health.

According to medical standards, obesity is defined as when body fat percentage exceeds 25% for men and 30% for women. But what should be done when people realize that their percentages are high? Omron Corp., a maker of health care equipment, recommends that such people cope with the problem by combining a healthy diet with exercise, since exercise is a particularly effective way of burning visceral fat.

Further Diffusion Expected
Most analyzers require the user to input such physical data as sex, height, and age before making the measurement. But besides this basic feature, many models on the market offer a wide range of designs and functions. The most common type is shaped like a bathroom scale and allows users to measure both their weight and body fat percentage at once. Another popular variation gauges the percentage and weight of body fat, as well as the degree of obesity, when the user holds it up with both hands. Some use less technologically advanced methods, pinching the skin around the stomach rather than running electricity through the body.

Seeing consumers' enthusiastic reaction to body fat analyzers thus far, manufacturers are looking to expand the market further. With so many different kinds available, and with even more coming out, the question may soon no longer be whether or not to have one, but which one to have.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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