The pill-free, diet-free fat-busting machine

British scientists develop 3-D fat-measuring technology that may be available on the high street within five years
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Indy Lifestyle Online

British scientists have developed the world's first 3-D body-mass scanner,which promises to bring "photo-booth"-style fat-measuring machines to the high street.

British scientists have developed the world's first 3-D body-mass scanner,which promises to bring "photo-booth"-style fat-measuring machines to the high street.

The scanner will tell users just how fat they are and where that fat is. Eventually it could also be used to detect a range of diseases.

The fat detector could represent technology's entry into the multi-billion-pound diet industry. In recent years cult regimes such as the Atkins diet have earned a fortune for their creators.

However, the astonishing new machine could also turn the fight against flab into the fascination with flab, since the images produced by the scanner are as intriguing as they are revealing.

When the new device goes into commercial production some of the first orders will certainly come from the ranks of the rich weight-watchers who have often been unwitting adverts for the slimming industry.

Only last week, pop star Britney Spears became the latest celebrity to be linked with "induced" weight loss when a small blue box dropped from her handbag while she was at Heathrow airport. The box allegedly appeared similar to one that contains a brand of fat-burning pills, Zantrex 3. Spears has denied the claims.

Machines that measure either the composition or the shape of the body have been available for years, but the new scanner - developed by a team of scientists and engineers from Lancaster University and the Norwich-based Institute of Food Research - combines both of these established techniques. It is able, for the first time, to offer a detailed three-dimensional snapshot of the entire body - with the fat deposits clearly identified. By making use of radio wave technology, rather than X-rays, and being non-invasive, the scanner is claimed to be completely safe, no matter how many times it is used.

Though it was developed with a clinical application in mind, the ease with which the machine could be used by the public points to a market beyond the confines of hospital and consulting room.

The team behind the scanner say it could become a useful tool to monitor, for example, the development of the body through childhood, or the progress of a pregnancy. The scanner could also detect those at risk from heart disease or diabetes. Body shape is a key indicator of both conditions.

To be scanned, the user stands in the machine while a moving ring passes from the head to the feet, guided by four pillars. At the same time, electrical coils inside the ring generate a radio-frequency electromagnetic field. This measures the conductivity of the body tissue, which points to the water content of various parts of the body. Simultaneously, the user is "swept" by a series of lasers, building up an accurate digital image of the body. This mass of data is then processed to inform the user, within minutes, precisely where they have been gaining - or losing - weight. And, if they like, they can have the picture of their body, and its fat, printed out.

Dr Henri Tapp, of the Institute of Food Research, who is part of the team behind the machine, said: "It takes a few minutes for the image to appear. It's a bit like being in a photo-booth ... Our system could become a feature of leisure centres, allowing clients to see how their shape and composition change through exercise."

The team is hoping to produce a second prototype by the end of this year, with mass production - if a commercial partner can be found - starting within five years.

The weight-loss 'A' list

Hormone PYY3-36

What is it? Hormone released in the gut when the stomach is full that tells the brain not to eat any more. Overweight people produce a third less of it.

Does it work? A study at Hammersmith hospital, London, claimed that a daily injection of PYY3-36 could reduce appetite by as much as 30 per cent.

Drawbacks Doctors say it only works in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.

Where can you get it? Could be available free on the NHS within five years.


What is it? A cactus used by tribesmen of the Kalahari Desert to stave off hunger.

Does it work? At a trial in Leicester, 19 overweight people were given unlimited food. Those on hoodia ate 1,000 fewer calories a day than the others.

Drawbacks Some of the US supplements sold on the internet have been found to contain no hoodia at all. US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer pulled out of clinical trials.

Where can you get it? Marketed online as the "miracle cactus". Costs $29.95 for 90 tablets.

Zantrex 3

What is it? American "fast-acting super-pill" whose ingredients include caffeine and green tea. Costs £30-£38 for two weeks' supply. Reportedly taken by Britney Spears - she denies this.

Does it work? Rapid weight loss is claimed.

Drawbacks Using Zantrex 3 while drinking strong coffee, tea or other products containing caffeine could cause palpitations and sleep loss.

Where can you get it? Available by mail order.


What is it? The drug fools the body into feeling full.

Does it work? A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that children aged 13 with weight problems lost more than a stone when taking the drug over a six-month period.

Drawbacks Side effects include dizziness, headaches and constipation.

Where can you get it? On prescription from your GP. Each course costs the NHS £40 a month.


What is it? A drug that blocks absorption of fats into the gut.

Does it work? Has been approved for use in the NHS by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Last year 541,400 prescriptions were written, compared with 127,800 in 1999.

Drawbacks Can cause flatulence and diarrhoea.

Where can you get it?

On prescription from your GP.

Green tea

What is it? Herbal tea drunk by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung as long ago as 2735 BC. Increasingly popular in the UK.

Does it work? In trials conducted at a university in Geneva, scientists found that taking green tea extract over a period of 10 weeks led to dramatic weight loss.

Drawbacks Tannins interfere with iron absorption and stain the teeth. Too much urination can cause dehydration.

Where can you get it? In supermarkets for around £1.50.

Steve Bloomfield