Anna Walner, Kristina Matisic
What to Look For
There are a number of important features to check when buying a scale. Accuracy and consistency of readings is the key.
- Good Housekeeping tested 16 bathroom scales for accuracy; they had three volunteers of different weights to test scales. They compared weights from bathroom scales to a calibrated lab scale.
- Digital ones tend to be more accurate, and can show the slightest gain or loss, as some even incorporate decimal point.
- Some mechanical scales only mark every two pounds and this can be discouraging if you are looking for every little bit lost.
Consistency of Readings
- You can get different readings from the same scale, just by stepping on and off. Readouts from the test varied by up to 6 pounds.
- If you constantly get different readings, one right after the other, you may need to get a better scale.
Also, don’t forget to look for a clear display pad. Numbers should be easy to read from a standing distance. Rubber feet or pads can help the scale stay put especially on a tiled floor. There are a variety of shapes, colours and designs for you to choose from. Make sure you pick one where your feet fit on the scale and do not cover the reading.
What's Out There
There are a few different types of scales on the market. They each have different advantages and disadvantages. To help you decide what to buy, the Shopping Bags look at the most popular type of scale on the market and they get the heavy on some of the other alternatives.
The mechanical/analog scales are also referred to as spring scales. These are the most common bathroom scale. The brackets distribute the user’s weight to levers, which connect to a plate at the end of a spring. The up-and-down motion of the spring plate is pivoted into a sideways motion, and a rack and pinion turns it into a circular motion to turn the dial. If the display is a rotating dial, it is an analog scale. These scales do not need batteries but occasionally need to be professionally reset. If the scale is turned upside down, the spring can be damaged. There are also some mechanical digital scales that have become popular. These require a battery to power an LED display.
The strain gauge/digital scales rely on electronic sensors with no moving parts. They often contain a strain-gauge load cell which measures the force, created by the weight, of the load placed on the scale. The scale then converts the force measurement into an electrical signal and transmits the signal to an electronic weight indicator. The weight indicator converts the signal into a weight reading which is displayed by LED or LCD. LCD is usually green or black and uses less power than LED. This scale can work faster than other kinds of scales and usually provides more accurate readings. The scales wear well because there are no moving parts and they never need to be reset to zero manually. Some of these scales use a conventional 9-volt battery, but others use a longer-lasting lithium battery. This scale can even be found in a solar model – this way you never have to change the batteries.
Body fat scales look like a regular bathroom scales but use a technique known as BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) to gauge body composition. Stand barefoot on the scale and a harmless electric current is sent through your body. The electrical current passes more easily through lean muscle than fat and a microchip in the scale measures how long the signal was impeded. The body composition is calculated mathematically by combining signal measurement with information on height, weight and gender. You can compare these readings to figures for healthy body fat ranges for your sex and age to see where you stand. The technology relies upon the body’s water content. The readings will be less accurate if you are dehydrated or over-hydrated. This scale is usually found for sale on the internet or specialty health shops. It can be very pricey compared to regular scales and the experts recommend asking health professionals for a body fat test once or twice a year instead. People with pace makers should not use these scales.
As far as this weighty issue goes, we wanted to know are some scales more accurate than others? We chose four scales to test:
1. Analog - $30
2. Digital - $60 - lithium battery powered, meant to last 10 yrs.
3. Digital - $125 - larger digital readout, same features as $60 scale, nicer glass design.
4. Weight and Body Fat - $109.99
We compared these store-bought scales to a jockey's more accurate scale.
The Analog was least accurate (off by 5 pounds), while both of the Digital scales were the most accurate (off by about a pound).
Anna and Kristina used the scales for a few weeks and then compared their weigh-ins.
Anna liked Analog (simpler to use), while Kristina preferred the Digital (liked the big digital display).
When buying a scale consider what you need it for. Some of the high end varieties may give you your weight to the decimal but who really needs this information. Weight can become a measure of your self-worth and self-esteem if you become too focused on it.
The experts explain that both mechanical and strain gauge are only measuring overall weight; they can’t distinguish between fat, fluid and muscle. Muscle weighs two thirds more than fat; so you can be leaner, even if the scale says you are getting heavier. Exercise and a good cardio work out are far more important that weight in pounds. On humid or overcast days, low barometric pressure means that water is retained in your tissue and it can look like you have gained weight. A woman’s weight changes throughout the month due to hormones, even eating too much salt will make you retain water and show an increase on the scale.
Select a scale that is for home use. Make sure it has a good warranty and that you know what batteries it takes for screen display.
After You Buy
To weigh-in in a healthy way, follow these tips from the experts on owning a scale:
- Weigh yourself only once a week.
- Weigh yourself on the same day at the same time.
- Empty your bladder.
- Wear the same light clothes each time to ensure consistency.
- Stand still. Shifting weight can affect readings.
- In addition to using the scale track weight loss by measuring hips, bust, waist and thighs on a weekly basis.
- Judge your body on how healthy and energetic you feel, as opposed to how much you weigh.
- Though handy, the bathroom is the worst place for a scale. Condensation will rust metal mechanisms and short electricals. Try the laundry room or an area near the kitchen instead.
- Do not put your scale on carpet, the readings are more accurate on a smooth, hard, level floor
Scales were first invented in the Middle East as early as 4000 BC. At that time they were not used for people but for goods. The first step towards bathroom scales were not taken until Leonardo da Vinci invented the first self-indicating scale around 1500. In the 18th and 19th centuries, growth of toll roads, railway shipping, and postal services (which all charge by weight) helped spur advances in scale technology; spring scales were invented during this period. Finally bathroom scales became popular in the early 1900’s, as people became increasingly weight-conscious. In 1923 insurance companies coined the term "ideal weight" and began charging portly policy holders higher premiums
Since then it seems that every one has caught the scale bug and counting calories is suddenly big business. The Shopping Bags talk to the experts about which scales are the best on the market and get some helpful tips on healthy ways to watch your weight.