The Body Fat Test is a compelling reason not to go to the gym. Fiona Mountford refuses to measure up
Common excuses not to go to the gym range from the plausible to the frankly pathetic. But a new reason is deterring potential converts: the body fat test.

With ever-increasing scientific knowledge and equipment available, gyms are becoming more formidable. No longer is it enough to lose a bit of weight; your aerobic capacity, body mass index and body fat percentage must also show signs of improvement. It's easy to feel that joining the commandoes would be less harrowing.

Karen, previously keen to join her company's gym, has put it off ever since the dreaded BF test was mentioned. "I've been on a diet and have lost weight, but am still very self-conscious. At least if I don't know how much body fat I have I can't worry about it." Helena is also on the run from what she sees as "body fascism". "You know you've got fat bits and you can hide it under nice clothes," she says. "But you can't when people are measuring it with scientific equipment."

Do the results of the body fat test justify such trauma? The method varies from analysing the body's percentages of lean to fat by running a mild current from head to foot, or the "revive-me-with-a-tub-of-Haagen-Dazs" calliper method, by pinching and measuring fat around bulgy bits. The startling news is that the range of inaccuracy can be up to 15 per cent.

Costas Karageorghis, who lectures in Sports Sciences at Brunel University, says such tests "make people afraid of negative self-evaluation and negative evaluation by others". Sports physiologist Andrew Clarke agrees and allows people to opt out of certain tests if they wish. He prefers "an informal and relaxed atmosphere. Otherwise people don't listen to what you're saying because they are preoccupied with words like 'fat' and 'cholesterol'."

It's doubtful whether anyone who has plucked up courage for one body fat test would agree to a second. Far better to stick to the chocolate and blame excess fat on an "inaccurate reading".