Scales Have Been Causing Arguments for Thousands of Years

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Among the laundry list of intake items collected at the clinic, one which many would prefer to skip, is the dreaded measure of body weight.

Patients the world ‘round plunk themselves on the big, scary scale-of-judgement in perpetuity every day. The collective war cry of inaccuracy would be deafening if one could tune into every medical office at once.

Since the first scales made their way into merchant centres, the debate about scale accuracy has walked hand in hand with the device.

Almost as venerable as the invention of the wheel separated only by a short 1,000 years or so, the scale has been a source for arguments since before the common era.

We find them mentioned in many ancient texts, including religious books, where value and accuracy are often the matter at hand.

Today’s scales are far greater devices than any before them, but the conversation around the scale hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years. It’s wrong. We all know it’s wrong.

It has to be, right?

 

Fitness Weigh-in

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As a fanatic of fitness and a former certified trainer, this writer has a duty to discuss the elephant in the living room.

Scratch that. Poor choice of words. Rephrase:

Let’s talk about the value of body weight. Modern humans, especially those in westernized nations, dread the notion of the weight on scale increasing.

The fitness take: A heavier weight doesn’t necessarily mean one lives with diminished health. If one added ten kilos of muscle through diet and exercise, more weight at weigh-in time would be a happy event.

Conversely, if one lost her arms in a tragic car accident, a lighter readout on the subsequent doctor’s visit would not be welcome news.

Total mass, the point of contention with the scale, is a measure of all parts of the body.

We should equate scale weight to a metric like a bank balance. It’s hardly the whole picture. It’s a guide, more painful when infrequently measured.

Generally speaking, gains and losses pertain to two features in the body, water and body fat. Water is the easiest to gain and lose. Body fat? Not so much.

The scale at the doctor’s office may be inaccurate, but probably not. Rather than invest in all the ways it’s wrong, invest in staying close to your body’s “bank balance” more often.

Balance your body’s chequebook frequently. Don’t argue with the intake nurse. They work hard and don’t deserve our snotty attitudes.

Neither do the scales. They’re both doing their jobs, and they've been doing them together a lot longer than you think.

 

Balance Scales

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By the best archaeological information we have, sometime around 2,000 BCE, humans used balance scales to measure weight.

Discovered in the Indus Valley of Pakistan, the first scales used a fulcrum and balance to determine weight.

The balance scale used two plates of equal weight, attached to an overhead beam, which hung suspended from the centre. Whatever one would place on one plate, would require something of equal value on the other plate to balance.

Once those early humans were able to establish a weight standard, like kilos, they could determine the weight of unknown objects. The larger the scale, the bigger object they could weigh, provided one could lift the object onto the scale.

The balance scale was, well, scalable. They were easy to render, and effective-enough to stand the test of time. For almost 4,000 years they were the only way to weigh.

Balance scales are familiar to modern humans. We see them portrayed as silhouettes in attorney’s office marketing, and we find them on the astrological chart. The symbol of Libra is the balance scale.

 

Spring Scales

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In 1770, a British balance maker, Richard Salter, invented a new type of scale, the spring scale.

Rather than rely on the integrity of the scale owner to use evenly weight plates and a uniform balance scale, the spring scale eliminated balance.

Instead, the spring scale used (ta-da) a spring to determine weight. The greater the tension on the spring, the heavier the weight.

Spring scales were inexpensive to duplicate, took up less space, and easier to use than a balance scale. In places like the home and medical facilities, spring scales replaced their ageing balance scale brethren.

Like a well-tuned timepiece, a spring scale can be very accurate. The key is accurate tuning. Spring scales need adjusting. Over time, they can become exponentially less accurate.

Speaking of exponents, the progress of technology did not mandate that humans live with this new technology as long as we did with the one it replaced.

Balance scales lasted almost 4,000 uncontended years, spring scales about 2,000. At this rate, the following one will last 50 years.

 

Digital Scales

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The digital scale came twice as fast as the technology it replaced. While exact dates are hard to wrangle, it was around the end of the 19th century that researchers started playing with emergent technology to upgrade the humble scale.

They started by using load cells to convert the pressure on a scale to a digital readout. Commercial applications of electronic scales did not move into the open market until the back half of the 20th century.

The first medical scale patent for a digital version was in 1980, but Richard Loshbough and Edward Pryor.

As scales in most countries suffer necessary regulation, the adaptation of new technologies is slow.

Case in point: medical centres in many areas still use the spring scale for weighing patients. The digital scale is making inroads, though.

 

Machine Learning Scales

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What is really interesting about scales is the rapid advancement of digital technologies.

Modern commercial scales used in homes often tell consumers more than their doctor’s scale. Accuracy is not consistent, but today’s scale data provides more than the body’s ledger balance.

Using biometric impedance, scales today also tell users their body fat percentage. In theory, if the overall weight goes up, but the body fat percentage goes down, the user can assume the weight gain is lean mass, muscle in this case.

That, however, is the tip of the iceberg. More advanced systems coordinate with smart devices via Bluetooth, and may even include technologies like body imaging.

One system out there on the open market uses a camera to map the shape of the body, then compiles the net data of body fat and scale weight to give a more accurate measure of overall health.

Today’s smart scales track individual users, know their goals, and may even coach them how to interpret data or how to make course corrections.

Again, accuracy is an issue, but so is cost. These nascent technologies are not cheap.

The overall speed of change for the humble scale is on balance with other technologies. By the evidence, the advancements are exponential.

In a decade we’ll see significant changes in the amenities offered with scales, but they will still measure one thing first; mass.

Per tradition, patients will still argue with whatever the scale says.

In case you missed it: Medshop Australia has a promotion right now for a nutritional scale and bathroom scale combo. Just saying...

Sources: health.nokiablog.scalesgalore

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