3D Scanners Give New Insight to Body Shape and Health

April 10, 2018

HONOLULU – The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is studying how body shape information can improve health by using 3D optical scanners and advanced statistical modeling.

“Human body shape is an intuitive marker of health. Emerging 3D optical scanners are safe, inexpensive and accessible. We envision that monitoring body shape when exercising, or changing your diet gives you more useful feedback than change in weight on a scale, and will help people be more successful with their lifestyle changes, live healthier and live longer,” said John Shepherd, PhD, principal investigator of the study and epidemiology researcher at the UH Cancer Center.

Shepherd, his team and collaborators lead the Shape Up! Study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study aims to develop tools and techniques to derive clinical health information from 3D body scanners.

Researchers will take full-body optical 3D scans at high spatial resolution of 720 adults and 720 kids. The participants will have other measures that are related to health and well-being including,

  1. dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans for body composition,
  2. blood test for metabolic markers,
  3. strength assessments, and
  4. questions regarding their lifestyle and eating habits.

“With this data, we can do some amazing things including modeling body shape changes due to loss or gain of muscle and fat. The findings from these studies will empower researchers, clinicians, and even consumers to measure and monitor their body shape and health,” said Shepherd.

Body shape scans create avatars of the person. Researchers have found there is more impact on a person when her or she looks at a 3D image of themselves versus knowing their weight. The modeling shows where weight came off, or where it could come off with further exercise/nutritional changes. It also shows detailed information of where the waist gets smaller, or where the thighs get smaller.


The middle image below is how Shepherd, of the Shape Up Study, looks with his Body Mass Index (BMI) value. What if he lost or gained pure fat? The image on the left is 44 pounds less fat than the current Shepherd in the middle. The far right image is if Shepherd gained 44 pounds of fat. The three images have the same underlying muscle.


Shepherd’s research team also looks to develop home body scan devices that accurately predict percent body fat from body shape. The device would show individuals how their body will change when they lose fat and/or gain muscle.

Having an optical body shape system at home could be beneficial for people who have limited access advanced optical imagers and other more expensive technologies.

The Shape Up! Cohort Study is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is a partnership with the University of Washington Computer Science Department, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and the University of California at San Francisco.

Interested in participating in the study? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 808-440-5234