How to measure waist size – and what it reveals about your health

5th January, 2023 • 4 min read

You may know what waist size your jeans are but when was the last time you actually measured your waistline? “Your waist size is a surprisingly accurate sign of potential health problems,” says Healthily doctor

Dr Ann Nainan
. “For women, it’s even more important to measure waist-to-hip ratio.” Here’s why and how to do these simple but effective health checks at home.

What your waist measurement reveals about your health

Lots of scientific studies show that having a larger waist size puts you at risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. “So measuring it can give you an early warning sign and help you take action to cut that risk,” says Dr Ann.

  • carrying extra weight around your waist can be a sign of harmful abdominal fat stored around your organs that can increase your risk of heart disease – known as visceral fat
  • a larger waist is also directly linked to higher cholesterol levels
  • extra fat around your waist also makes it harder for your body to manage your blood sugar, upping your risk of diabetes

What is a healthy waist measurement?

“There are different low risk and high risk waist measurements depending on your family heritage,” says Dr Ann. And different guidelines may state slightly different measurements.

Waist measurement women:

  • high risk is 35ins (88.9cm) or above

Waist measurement men:

  • high risk is over 40ins (101.6cm)

For people of Asian descent, the recommended waist measurement is lower because you may be at risk of heart disease and diabetes at a lower weight.

  • women should stay below 31ins (80cm)
  • men should stay under 35.4ins (90cm)

Another useful measurement to know about is your waist measurement in relation to your height – there’s evidence a waist measurement that’s less than half your height lowers the risk of health problems.

How to measure your waist

To find your waist size, grab a flexible tape measure and then:

  • find the top of your hips and the bottom of your ribs
  • place the tape measure halfway between these two points (just above your belly button) – it should be tight but not digging into to your skin
  • breathe out naturally and measure your waist
  • do it again to double-check

Watch the video below to see how it’s done.

Why women who are an apple shape need the WHR health check

Another measurement worth knowing is your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Studies show that people who have more fat around their middle – a classic ‘apple’ shape – have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, even if they’re a healthy weight.

“Perimenopause and

menopause
can shift your weight to your belly, making you more apple shaped,” says Dr Ann. “Women with a high WHR also face a higher risk of heart attacks compared with men who have a similar body shape. I’d say WHR is a useful measurement woman should be aware of.”

What’s a healthy waist-to-hip ratio?

The ideal waist measurement for women will be different to that for men; the World Health Organization (WHO) says you are at higher risk of health complications if your WHR is:

  • 0.85 or more for women
  • 0.9 or more in men

A WHR of 1.0 or higher in both men and women can increase your risk of developing the conditions mentioned above.

Want more health stats? It may be helpful to know your

BMI
and
body fat percentage
too.

Read more about your

BMI
.

How to measure waist and hips

So, how do you calculate WHR? Grab your tape measure again and:

  • stand up straight, then measure around the largest part of your hips
  • keep the tape measure parallel to the floor and make sure it goes all the way around the widest part of your buttocks
  • this figure is your hip measurement
  • divide your
    waist
    by your hip size – this is your WHR

How to drop a waist size

If your WHR is a little higher than you’d like, there are lots of things you can do to lower it:

  • take a look at your lifestyle – are you
    exercising
    regularly? Eating the right-sized portions? Getting enough
    sleep
    ? Getting to a healthy weight overall can help
  • what sort of foods are you eating? Research has found that a diet rich in fruit and dairy products, and low in processed meat, white bread, and soft drinks can help reduce abdominal fat
  • you can’t do specific exercises to get rid of visceral fat, but experts say following a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise is the best way to fight it

When to see a doctor

Be aware that a constantly bloated stomach can be a sign of food intolerances, IBS, endometriosis or, in rare cases, ovarian cancer so do see a doctor if you’ve noticed a sudden increase or tried to reduce your waist size but nothing’s working.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.