Everything you should know about DEXA scans in Australia, from price to locations

I recently decided to get my first DEXA scan in order to start gathering some baseline data about my body fat levels. In the past I have gotten a number of Inbody scans which use different technology, but when I found out a nearby gym was offering scans for only $50, I tried it out.

Here’s everything to know about why they’re useful for those trying to improve their body.

Table of contents

What is a DEXA scan and how does it work?

A DEXA scan is a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry test which sends two x-rays with different energy peaks through your body. These peaks can be used to measure tissue and bone respectively. DEXA scans are often used to diagnose osteoporosis because a scan will show your bone density.

Because it also measures your fat and lean mass amounts, it gives you an accurate body fat percentage. Many claim that DEXA scans are one of the most accurate methods for obtaining your bodyfat percentage.

A DEXA scan can be superior to body fat calipers, as these have a margin of error due to the formula used and the experience of the person using them. It’s also claimed to be more accurate than devices which use bioelectrical impedance, although recent innovations such as the Inbody machine claim 98% accuracy when compared to a DEXA.

What is it like to get a DEXA scan?

I got my DEXA scan from Body and Bone, which has a mobile scanning truck. The truck was close to my home and regularly makes appearances at various gyms and other locations in Sydney.

I stepped up into the van and had a quick chat with the friendly technician. He asked me a few questions about myself including my height, age and weight, and then I took off my shoes and earring and lay on the scanner itself.

The scanner is basically a raised plastic platform with some padding and a scanning arm.

You simply lie down and the scanning arm slowly moves its way over your head and down to your toes, taking 5 – 10 minutes. Apart from having to stay still the whole time, it’s not uncomfortable or claustrophobic at all.

DEXA ScanOnce it was done, I took a seat with the technician and he printed out my results, showing me the various readings it had taken.

In my case, my body fat was at a good level: 12.2%, with no problem metrics to address. In addition to telling you your body fat percentage, a DEXA scan also gives you a number of other measurements to consider.

One such measurement is your visceral adipose tissue area. This refers to the layer of fat around your intra-abdominal organs. High amounts of this fat can lead to diseases including type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and more.

Another great measurement my DEXA scan gave me was my Fat Mass Index (FMI). This is a score that is an indicator of general health. In the past I used a Body Mass Index (BMI) to obtain this, but it would show me as overweight even though I was around 15% body fat. This is because BMI is just a ratio of your weight to your height. It doesn’t take into account what your weight is actually made up of e.g a high percentage of fat vs a high percentage of muscle.

DEXA Scan report
The report I received from my scan.

The FMI uses your height and your total fat mass rather than your total weight, so it gives you a more accurate indicator of how you’re progressing. My report showed me in the low end of the normal part of the spectrum. Sadly, there’s not only one but three classes for the obese part of the spectrum.

Overall my results gave me a good baseline to test out the effect of different diets or programs over the next year.
The technician finished by asking about body goals for the next year, and after telling him my plans to shave another percentage point from my body fat by next year, he created a report with my metabolic data, including my resting metabolic rate and daily energy requirements.

The report also gave me two different daily calorie numbers I could aim for to reach my goal. I could aim to put on more muscle while keeping my current body fat level the same, or I could keep my muscle mass steady and instead focus on losing body fat. With these numbers I can now accurately tailor my diet, exercise frequency and workout intensity to reach my goal.

How safe is a DEXA scan?

According to Measure Up, a DEXA scan company offering services in Sydney and Melbourne, the amount of radiation from a DEXA scan is equivalent to about half the normal background radiation we usually receive during the day. It’s under half the radiation you’re usually exposed to on a flight from Sydney to Brisbane. For comparison, a normal chest x-ray is about 60 microsieverts (uSv) whereas a DEXA scan is 1 – 4 uSv.

How much does a DEXA scan cost in Australia?

This DEXA scan cost me approximately $50. I’ve seen DEXA scans in other locations cost $120 – $150 depending on what is included in the consultation. My previous Inbody scans using bioelectrical impedance cost around the same, so the price was competitive in my opinion.

DEXA vs bioelectrical impedance VS hydrostatic underwater weighing VS body fat calipers

The different methods of body fat analysis largely come down to differences in technology and differences in price and availability.

Many think the most accurate method of measuring your body fat is hydrostatic underwater weighing. This is basically when the person being weighed enters a tank of water. Fat is less dense than water, and muscle is more dense, so using a formula, someone’s body fat percentage can be accurately worked out. The main issue with this technique is that it’s not nearly as available as the other methods.

Bioelectrical impedance analysis can take the form of a few different devices, including gym scales, handheld devices, electrodes or new machines like the Inbody.

A bioelectrical impedance device sends a current through the water in your body, and this current loses voltage at different rates depending on what it encounters e.g fat, muscle or skin. These values are then used to calculate your body fat percentage. An Inbody machine uses multiple frequencies over different body areas to give a more accurate result compared to other devices.

I have had two Inbody scans in the past and have found the results to be very close to my DEXA scan. The procedure takes about 5 minutes, and rather than lie down you stand on the Inbody machine and hold the two arms connected to the machine. After the scan the technician gives a similar consultation to what I received with the DEXA scan.

Body fat calipers are just that: a set of calipers that a personal trainer, coach or yourself will use to measure various skinfolds. Because they’re much cheaper than the other machines, you can find a pair of calipers in most gyms or buy a set online. These measurements are then plugged into a formula and this spits out a body fat percentage. The accuracy of this method relies on the person taking your readings.

Bodyfat calipers

Where can you get a DEXA scan in Australia?

Here are a few companies you can look into:

What has your experience with DEXA scans been like? Let me know below.

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