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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Too late for this year’s Olympics, but women hoping to compete in the 2000 games might improve their performances by reading a University of Tennessee study.

It links body fat and bone density.

Dr. Dixie Thompson, UT-Knoxville assistant professor of exercise science, said some standard body fat measuring methods, such as weighing underwater or pinching skin folds with calipers, can be inaccurate because they ignore bone density.

For example, when some women run long distances or train hard, they have irregular menstrual cycles which can lead to lower bone density due to reduced estrogen levels, Thompson said.

“If we take a woman runner with an irregular menstrual cycle and low bone density, and use a standard body fat assessment technique, we overestimate her body fat,” Thompson said. “Then the athlete might try to cut weight she really doesn’t need to lose, and it could have negative health consequences.”

Cutting body fat helps athletes stay cooler and carry less weight, Thompson said. Too little fat, however, may hurt athletic performance and be unhealthy, she said.

Thompson said improved accuracy was more pronounced in black athletes, who have higher bone density than whites.

“Athletes want to find the physiological point where they perform at their highest level,” Thompson said. “If you do not measure bone density, then you run the risk of inaccurately estimating body fat.

“We want to provide the best tools we can to accurately assess body composition so we don’t misinform people about their need to lose or gain a certain body fat percentage.”

Contact: Dr. Dixie Thompson (423-974-8883)