Percentage of body fat is strongly associated with the risk of several chronic diseases but its accurate measurement is difficult. Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is a relatively simple, quick and non-invasive technique, to measure body composition. It measures body fat accurately in controlled clinical conditions but its performance in the field is inconsistent. In large epidemiologic studies simpler surrogate techniques such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and waist-hip ratio are frequently used instead of BIA to measure body fatness. We reviewed the rationale, theory, and technique of recently developed systems such as foot (or hand)-to-foot BIA measurement, and the elements that could influence its results in large epidemiologic studies. BIA results are influenced by factors such as the environment, ethnicity, phase of menstrual cycle, and underlying medical conditions. We concluded that BIA measurements validated for specific ethnic groups, populations and conditions can accurately measure body fat in those populations, but not others and suggest that for large epidemiological studies with diverse populations BIA may not be the appropriate choice for body composition measurement unless specific calibration equations are developed for different groups participating in the study.