Shocking the fat out of students

SAN JOSE – The department of food and nutrition at San Jose State University is offering to electrocute students and reveal their body composition for $5.

Called “bioelectric impedance,” a low amperage current is run through the body. Impedance is how much a device resists the flow of an audio circuit signal. Because lean body mass — which is organ tissue, muscle tissue and bone — has a greater amount of water and electrolytes than fat, it is a good conductor of electricity. Fat acts as an insulator and is a poor conductor of electricity.

Through this method, a measure of the body’s total water content is taken. An estimate of lean body mass is then established and subtracted from the total body weight. The remaining amount of weight is fat.

Sherry Adamski, a food science graduate student, has been running the body composition analysis in the Central Classroom building for the past three years.

After sticking electrodes onto a person’s hand and bare foot, Adamski enters the person’s weight, height, gender and age into the bioelectric impedance machine.

During a body composition session with a student, Adamski reassured the anxious student about the process.

“You won’t feel a thing. It’s very quick,” Adamski said.

A body composition profile is printed a few seconds later.

The profile estimates the range for the person’s percent of body lean, body fat and body water that is normal for that particular body type.

Adamski explained how different body types yield different results.

“Swimmers have a layer of fat under their skin. Their percentage of fat is a little higher. Athletic people, like marathon runners, have a lower percentage of fat. Sometimes I get people who admit to not exercising. Their muscle composition is not what is should be for a person that height,” Adamski said.

There is one important detail to ensure before having this test done.

“If the person is dehydrated, it doesn’t work. A person can be dehydrated and not know it. They may not be sensitive to their water intake. When this happens the body fat is overestimated, and the muscle is underestimated. But the person can come back, and I don’t charge for a second reading,” Adamski said.

Ashika Reddy, a senior criminal justice major, was surprised to find that she was dehydrated.

“I did drink some Coke and that might be what caused it,” Reddy said.

Dehydration might not be caused from a lack of fluid on that particular day, but from previous days, Adamski said.

“You have to drink water regularly,” she said.

Some students had a positive reaction to the idea of having their body composition taken.

“That would be good to know because I’m trying to keep healthy,” said Whitney Little, a senior industrial design major.

Other students were more hesitant.

“I’d have to have some sort of incentive to do it,” said Joe Pham, a junior marketing major.

Adamski said that the $5 fee is given to the department of food and nutrition.

“The bioelectrical impedance equipment is actually very costly. We only ask for $5 because we like to use it as an educational tool. I have repeat customers every semester,” Adamski said.