I was on Facebook recently when I saw an ad for something I've never heard of before – a “3D Body Scanning Scale & Fitness Tracker that visualizes fat loss and muscle gains.” It’s called the ShapeScale. It’s also said to be the “First scale that scans you in 3-D” which “shows your losses and gains” with “3- heat-maps.” The wording I saw in the ad made me wonder how it worked? Did ShapeScale measure body fat? And so I decided to investigate. If you were curious too, here’s what I discovered.
What Is The ShapeScale?
When you step on to the ShapeScale, it has a mechanical arm that extends and rotates around you 360 degrees, taking hundreds of pictures. This provides a 3-dimensional image of your body. The idea is that by using the Shape Scale at regular intervals (say, every few months) you can get a better idea how your body is changing.
For me, the confusing part of the ShapeScale website and ad were references to how it gave“access to new localized metrics. No more tedious fat calipers or tape measures or Fat calipers.” Again, I wondered if this machine was measuring body fat.
To get to the bottom of this, I went to ShapeScale.com where they have a handy FAQ page that sheds light on all this.
Does Shape Scale Measure Body Fat?
Not directly. Despite the wording on the website, the Shape Scale does not directly measure body fat. So it’s not technically the same as:
- Underwater weighing
- Bioelectric impedance
- DEXA scans
- Skin fold calipers
The idea is that as you use the ShapeScale over time, you can see how your body is changing. Areas that are getting smaller are associated with fat loss while those areas that are getting bigger or more defined are associated with gaining muscle.
Associated is the big word in that statement. Because ShapeScale doesn’t directly measure body fat, the idea of gaining muscle or losing body fat is an assumption. True, there is some evidence for this, which I'll summarize below, but it’s an assumption nonetheless.
Does ShapeScale Measure Visceral Fat?
Viceral fat is the fat in and around internal organs. This type of fat is often associated with diseases like diabetes and heat disease. The idea is that less visceral fat means less health problems.
The ShapeScale does not directly measure visceral fat. On their FAQ page they say this: “Since ShapeScale does not use x-rays, ultrasound or magnetic fields to determine your body fat, we cannot accurately determine your visceral body fat as accurately as a DEXA/DXA, Sonographic or CT scanning device may do.”
Can It Tell The Difference Between Fat and Lean Mass?
ShapeScale estimates body composition changes over time. It does not do this the same way as other body composition tools. By taking hundreds of pictures, it provide information on how the body is changing.
- Areas that are getting bigger are indicative of muscle building.
- Areas that are getting smaller are associated with fat loss.
The ShapeScale website does list research to back up their claims on the accuracy of 3D body composition. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the research:
One small study (39 healthy people) published in 2016 compared the Fit 3D scanner (Fit3D.com) to:
- Air displacement (Basically the “Bod Pod)
- Tape measurements
These researchers noted a “strong correlation” between 3D imaging and tape measurements and a “moderate agreement” with predicting visceral fat development.
In another investigation, 3D body imaging technology was seen effective in predicting abdominal obesity. This study involved 122 men and women.
In a third investigation, involving 92 people (age 6-83) weighting between 52 -400 pounds, 3D scanning data was not significantly different (that's good) from body fat percentages obtained from what is often called, the gold standard of body composition analysis – underwater weighing (only 63 of the 92 people in this study were weighed under water).
Here's what I think: Some research suggests that 3D body scanning may be an accurate way to estimate and predict body fat and abdominal obesity.
While the technology is probably on target in many people, when I see phrases like “strong correlation,” “predicting” and “agreement” it says to me that there will be some degree of error.
That said, there is a also degree of error with bioelectric impedance, which is the most popular way to estimating body fat in most health clubs.
Looking over the research, one possible issue occurred to me; most of the studies I saw involved healthy people. Would ShapeScale be accurate in people who are not so healthy? For example, would it accurately predict muscle and fat in people have have:
- Multiple sclerosis
I'm not sure. I really hope researchers will look at this. If it's proven effective in populations like these, ShapeScale would be a very easy and effective tool at tracking progress in clinical settings. For me, this is the most attractive possibility of this technology.
What is Body Shape Index?
Many people have heard of BMI – Body Mass Index – which ,in the general population, is associated with percent body fat and many disease states. Body Mass Index however is less likely to predict percent body fat in heavily muscled individuals like bodybuilders and other athletes.
Because of this limitation, the Shape Scale also provides another measurement, called the Body Shape Index (also called ABSI). Body Shape Index is a value (a number) that includes BMI as well as body circumference and your height.
The math is a little more complicated than calculating BMI, but some evidence suggests it may be a better predictor of health -and mortality.
For example, in a study involving over 14,000 people, Body Shape Index was found to be better than both Body Mass Index and waste to hip ratio, at predicting death. Wow!
Another study, published in 2015 noted that Body Shape Index was associated with higher LDL and insulin levels. Both of these are strongly linked to heart disease and type II diabetes.
Body Shape Index does not directly measure LDL or insulin, as these are blood values. The only way to test them accurately is with a blood test.
The research so far is pretty interesting. Whether or not it's ultimately proven to be the best or not will require a bit more research. Either way, Body Shape Index is sure to be getting a lot of attention in the future.
Use this free tool to calculate your Body Shape Index now.
ShapeScale and White Fat vs. Brown Fat?
We know there are different types of fat in the body. Brown fat, because it burns more calories than white fat, is more highly coveted to have. The idea is the more brown fat we have, the higher our metabolic rate is. In this way, brown fat may play a role in weight loss.
Can Shape Scale tell the difference between brown fat and white fat? I'm currently not aware of any good proof at this time.
Exercise does appear to improve our production of a chemical called irisin. This compound seems to turn white fat into brown fat. Other research suggests brown fat seems to be localized between the shoulder blades.
So we know where brown fat tends to be reside.
In theory, if the ShapeScale was able to tell the difference between brown fat and white fat, this would be huge. It's definitely something for the makers of this product to take a look at.
The book, The Secrete Life of Fat has a nice review of all things having to do with fat research.
How Much Does ShapeScale Cost?
When I checked, the ShapeScale was priced at $500. The company also offered subscription plans too. Subscription plans gives the ability to have the ShapeScale company store all of your scans in the cloud.
Subscription plans might be best for health clubs and personal trainers who do scans on many different people. Subscription plans also allow the company to provide software updates as they are developed. I believe everyone who buys a ShapeScale will have to opt for a subscription plan.
When I checked there were 2 levels of subscriptions:
- $9.99 yearly subscription, billed annually to a credit card
- $12.99 billed per month. This requires a 1 year commitment
These amounts should be added to the price of ShapeScale.
There is also an all-inclusive lifetime ShapeScale plan which is $699.
What Do They Do With The Data?
If ShapeScale stores our 3 D images in the cloud, what do they do with that information? Do they just store it forever? Would they ever share it for example, with the police or homeland security or health insurance companies? In other words, could all all this bio-metric data be used to track people? I'm honestly not sure but I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this.
We live in a much smaller world since 9/11. I sometimes wish we could go back to the world of September 10th, when we didn't ask questions like this. What I can say is that when I reviewed the ShapeScale website I did not see anything that made me think they would be sharing data with anyone. I honestly don't think they would do this unless maybe receiving a court order, and that scenario sounds like it came right out of a TV show. I trust that the company is in the healthy living business not the sharing of information business.
Is ShapeScale Worth The Money?
This is up to each person to decide. No doubt the ShapeScale snazzy. Not many institutions have them. As such, the fitness center or personal trainer who owns one of these devices will be ahead of the curve and sure to impress their clients.
Three dimensional body comp scanners also give impressive visual feedback which is very important at improving exercise adherence and gym member retention, things many fitness trainers/fitness centers struggle with.
On the downside, The ShapeScale is expensive. I don't recommend people go into credit card debt to buy this thing. Save up for it first and then buy it if you like. It's also true that much of the data the the ShapeScale provides can be obtained with a tape measure and that free Body Shape Index Tool I mentioned above, – albeit with less of the “wow factor.”
Have you tried the ShapeScale?