August 15, 2008

A mechanism that measures a person's body composition will help University of Kentucky School of Human Environmental Sciences researchers boost their studies in the areas of healthy weight and dietetics.

The UK Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences recently purchased the mechanism, the BOD POD, with funding from Cooperative Extension physical activity monies. It is considered the gold standard in determining body composition.

Studies have shown that individuals with a high percentage of body fat are at a greater risk for certain diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. The BOD POD uses air displacement to measure a person's total lean body mass and total fat body mass. That number can help researchers determine if a person really needs to lose weight. It also measures a person's resting metabolic rate, which can help in selecting an appropriate weight loss plan.

"In essence, this helps Kentuckians because we're more likely to be overweight than the rest of the nation," said Janet Kurzynske, chair of the UK Department of Nutrition and Food Science. "When we conduct a weight loss program, we can determine whether it's decreasing the percentage of body fat."

The mechanism is more comfortable for research participants than other body composition assessment methods, such as underwater weighing, said Kelly Webber, assistant professor in nutrition and food sciences. It can accommodate individuals as tall as 7 feet and those weighing as much as 450 pounds.

Webber will use the machine in two weight loss studies this fall -- one with adult women and one with college students.

"It's going to help us more accurately determine the impact we make in the health of the individuals in those weight loss studies," she said.

By determining the amounts of lean and fat body mass, the BOD POD paints a more accurate picture of a person's body composition than other assessment methods that rely heavily on calculations, such as body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio, Webber said

"We know that while BMI is a decent indicator, fat mass is an even better indicator of disease risks. So if we can assess it, and if we can decrease a person's total fat mass, then we'll know we made an impact on their health," she said.

Other studies in the department that use the BOD POD also are in the works. Currently, four faculty members and three graduate assistants are certified to operate the machine. It is available for any faculty member in nutrition and food science to use for research, but they must complete the necessary training before using it. Dietetics students also will have the opportunity to learn about this tool and other body composition assessment methods in one of the course offerings this fall. Kurzynske said the department also is looking at ways to integrate it into some extension programs.

This is UK's third BOD POD, and it has the latest technology. The other two are in kinesiology and the medical center.