The Skulpt Scanner is a device that claims to measure your body fat percentage quickly and accurately. But does it really work? Is there any science behind it?
The Skulpt Scanner is shaped a little like an iPhone, with sensors on the back.
You put it over your muscles, and hold it in place for a few seconds.
It’s then supposed to “instantly and accurately measure body fat percentage and the muscle quality of each muscle.”
Here’s a video of a guy using the Skulpt Scanner if you’d like to watch.
Skulpt Scanner: The Claims
Skulpt makes a number of very specific claims, including that their device is 5 times more accurate than body fat scales, 3-4 times more accurate than skinfold calipers, and within 1-2% of underwater weighing.
It all looks very exciting and scientific.
But there isn’t anything on the website to support their claims, other than this:
“Electrical impedance myography (EIM) is based on over a decade of research at Harvard and MIT, and has previously been used in collaboration with NASA. Initially developed for the medical space, Skulpt introduces EIM to the consumer market with its two products: Aim and Chisel.”
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So I had a dig through the research to see what I could find.
I did come across a number of studies that looked at EIM (the technology used in the Skulpt Scanner) as a way to diagnose and monitor a variety of neuromuscular disorders [1, 2]. But none of them used it to track changes in body composition over time.
Skulpt makes a lot of bold claims about what their products can do.
But once you look past all the puffery about “decades of research at Harvard” and “collaboration with NASA” there is no hard data to back those claims up.
If the Skulpt Scanner is more accurate than body fat scales (which wouldn’t be difficult) and “within 1-2% of underwater weighing,” then presumably the people who make the product must have done the research to back those claims up.
But if they have, I couldn’t find it. So I wrote to the people at Skulpt, with a simple question:
“I’m interesting in finding out more about the science behind EIM. Do you have links to any research that compares it with the 4-compartment model, in terms of its ability to track individual changes in body composition over time?”
Other than an automated reply saying that my message had been received, I heard nothing. Radio silence.
Skulpt Scanner Accuracy: Worse Than DEXA and Body Fat Scales
In one of the few studies to test the accuracy of the Skulpt Scanner, researchers from Texas compared a number of different body fat tests to see which one worked best .
There was a lot about this study to like:
1. It looked at a wide range of body fat testing methods, from body fat scales to DEXA to the Skulpt Scanner.
2. The 4-compartment model was used as a benchmark. This involves dividing the body into four compartments (mineral, water, fat, and protein) and measuring each one independently. It’s currently the gold standard against which other body composition tests are measured.
3. The researchers also listed the 95% limits of agreement (LOA) for each method. This gives you a much better idea about the accuracy of a given body fat test for an individual rather than a group.
Why does that matter?
Let’s say you round up a group of people and measure their body fat. Let’s also assume whatever body fat test you’re using overestimates body fat percentage in half the group by 5%, and underestimates it in the other half by 5%.
When looking at the group results, the average error size is zero. But the individual results are way out.
Just because a body fat test does a decent job at estimating group averages doesn’t mean it works equally well for individuals. That’s why it’s good to know the 95% LOA.
The 95% LOA for the Skulpt Scanner clocked in at 7.7%. Which means that if the Skulpt Scanner puts you at 15% body fat, your true body fat could be as low as 7.3% or as high as 22.7%.
It was worse than DEXA and body fat scales, and one of the least accurate devices tested in the study.
A body fat test is less of a measurement than it is an estimate. A guess about what your body composition really is.
In that sense, the Skulpt Scanner is no different than body fat scales, DEXA, the Bod Pod and all the others, which are a lot less accurate than the people who make them would have you believe.
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