Do Some People Need More Body Fat Than Others?
Body fat is a source of energy and helps in regulating the body's temperature.
It's easy to think of it as an unwanted burden, but in fact everyone has to carry some percentage of body fat to stay healthy. Women need slightly more body fat than men and pregnant women need still more. Another factor is age. It's normal to put on a few extra pounds over the years. Nonetheless, having too much body fat can lead to high blood pressure and other illnesses.
Body fat has several important roles to play in our physiology. It's a source of energy for the body's metabolism. It assists in regulating the body's temperature by providing insulation against cold. Body fat acts as a shock absorber, protecting the internal organs from sudden impacts and is part of the support structure that holds the different elements of the anatomy in place.
For men aged 20 to 39, having 8 to 20 per cent body fat is a healthy level, rising to 12 to 22 per cent for the 40 to 59 age group and 15 to 25 per cent for those over 60. For boys between the ages of 8 and 12, it's 13 to 23 per cent, dropping to 10 to 20 per cent by the ages of 16 to 18.
It's normal and healthy for women to carry slightly more fat than men on their breasts, hips and thighs as part of their feminine shape. In women, a healthy body fat percentage is related to fertility. If a woman is carrying too little body fat, she may find that her menstrual periods stop. A healthy body fat percentage for a woman aged 20 to 39 is 21 to 33 per cent, rising to 23 to 34 per cent for women aged 40 to 59, and 24 to 36 per cent for those over 60.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman will usually put on seven pounds of maternal fat and nutrient stores during pregnancy, often on her hips, thighs and upper arms. This extra fat is needed as a source of nutrients for the fetus and, later, as fuel for the manufacturing of breast milk. A pregnant woman should avoid, though, uncontrolled weight gain as this will add to the physical strain of carrying an unborn child.