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What Is the Normal Body Fat Percentage?

Updated April 17, 2017

Your height-to-weight ratio, or body mass index (BMI), is sometimes used to determine if you're at a healthy weight, but body fat percentage is generally considered a more reliable indicator.

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Body fat percentage is a comparison between the amount of your body composed of fat cells and the other parts of your body, such as bones and muscles. "Normal" body fat percentage can refer either to the "ideal" percentage recommended by health experts or the "average" percentage of a general population.

For Men

The National Institutes of Health suggest a healthy body fat percentage for men is 13 to 17 per cent. The average American man's body fat is 17 to 19 per cent.

For Women

The NIH guidelines for body fat in women is higher than in men, setting the ideal at 20 to 21 per cent. However, the average American woman's body fat percentage is a little higher at 22 to 25 per cent.

For Athletes

Athletes often have extremely low body fat percentages. This is usually not dangerous until it reaches between 3 and 6 per cent for men and below 12 per cent for female athletes.


Lower body fat isn't always better. Being underweight can lead to symptoms such as no menstrual cycle in women and memory problems in both sexes.

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About the Author

Sarah Rigg

Sarah Rigg has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and philosophy from Western Michigan University. She taught technical writing at WMU for several years and has been writing and editing for more than a decade. Rigg won awards for her creative writing and for her work at community newspapers.

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