High-tech gadgetry, sleek designs and belief in the virtue of regular weigh-ins are transforming the bathroom scale from an embarrassment in the corner to a partner in healthy living.
"If you are trying to do something about your weight and get consistent feedback about whether your efforts are working, that's useful to know," explained Jennifer Linde, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.
According to Linde's research published in the December 2005 issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, daily weighing helps people shed pounds and keep them off. She said any scale will do the trick as long as it is on a flat, hard surface and used at the same time each day (weight fluctuates throughout the day). But many manufactures hope to woo health-conscious shoppers with additional measurements and modern style.
For example, the digital Innerscan and Ironman lines from Tanita ($70 to $130) come packed with features that do everything from sending a low-level electric current through the body in order to measure body fat percentage and hydration levels to allowing up to four individual users to track their progress over time.
Some models, such as the glass-and-stainless BC-533 ($120), also analyze muscle mass, bone mass and daily caloric intake, gauge stomach fat and provide a "physique" rating based on body type.
Tanita claims these additional measurements can be important to maintaining overall health and monitoring the effects of a diet and exercise plan. For example, a stand-alone weight reading does not distinguish muscle from fat. Too much fat can be a warning sign of serious medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Cathy Nonas, a dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in New York, cautioned that before people opt for these features, they should know how they intend to use the information. Do they really need to know their percent body fat on a regular basis? "If so, then by all means, spend the extra money," she said.
Body fat and body water monitors are available on high-end models from most manufacturers, including Conair's sleek-looking Weight Watchers and Thinner brands (about $80). The Health-o-meter Body Fat Step Scale ($50) is a feature-trimmed version that still includes body fat analysis. It comes with stainless steel foot plates and a matte silver finish.
Braggarts (or the fuzzy sighted) might be interested in a talking scale from Phoenix ($70). The Centrios Wireless Glass Panel Scale ($50) is ideal for people who are tired of squinting at their toes to read their weight status. The display can be placed at eye level and it shows time and date when not counting pounds.
Most digital scales rely on an array of electronic sensors to calculate weight rather than the spring loaded mechanisms of their predecessors. As such, their readings are considered more precise and require less knob-fiddling adjustments to keep them true.
Of course, the traditional spring-loaded styles that read weight like a speedometer going zero to @#$%! in a few blinks of the eye are still around. And unlike their digital cousins, no batteries are required. Several manufactures make them and many are updated with a trendy, retro-styled look.
For example, the Analog Dial Scale from Homedics ($25) comes with an easy-to-read speedometer dial, a 300 pound weight capacity, and color choice of black and white or all white. Basic scales in the $10-$15 price point include the Thinner Compact Scale and the Taylor Basic Analog Scale.
No matter what scale people choose, Linde said dieters should remember that weight fluctuates daily. Even if people are on the right track, one day may be up and the other down. "Look at trends over time and make adjustments depending on where that trend is heading," she said.