Why your waist-to-height ratio is a good measure of health

Forget scales and BMI – a healthy waist-to-height ratio may be the figure you need to focus on to monitor your health.

Australia is the land of plenty, but for many men and women the abundance of food is leading to expanding waistlines.

Government figures suggest that two in three adults are overweight or obese.

For some people, much of their excess weight is centred around their middle, but abdominal fat carries a range of potential health risks – including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

“For almost everyone, it’s the unhealthy fat that we deposit inside the abdomen that causes problems,” Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute deputy director, Professor Jonathan Shaw, ,says.

“Fat stored under the skin doesn’t cause much trouble, but fat around the organs inside the abdomen which can get inside the liver, muscles and around the heart is active and promotes the development of disease.”

Why waist-to-height ratio matters

Because of the risks posed by fat around the middle, the UK’s health watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is encouraging people to focus on waist circumference and particularly their waist-to-height ratio as an indicator of health.

It’s being put forward as a useful addition to monitoring Body Mass Index with the goal being to have a waist that measures half your height.

So, a woman who is 164cm tall should have a waist circumference of no more than 82cm for example.

Waist-to-height numbers to watch

According to research, a healthy waist-to-height ratio ranges between 0.4 to 0.49.

A ratio of 0.5 to 0.59 puts people at increased risk of health problems while a waist-to-height ratio of 0.6 or more places people at the highest risk of disease.

Associate Professor Elif Ekinci, Director of the Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations says because BMI measures overall body weight, it doesn’t indicate if someone is carrying too much fat in the wrong areas.

“Some people store fat around their bottom and hips which isn’t such a risk,” Assoc Prof Ekinci says.

“People who have more muscle will also weigh more but not necessarily be at increased risk of health issues.

“Waist measurement can be a useful guide when people are losing weight but the issue with measuring your waist is doing it accurately – it can be quite tricky to measure your waist correctly each time.”

Professor Shaw suggests keeping an eye on your waist measurement and your BMI.

“If you lose 8 kilos, that’s the equivalent of losing about 1cm from your waist circumference,” he says.

How to measure your waist

  • Find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.
  • Put a tape measure around your middle halfway between this point, just above your belly button.
  • Pull the tape closely against your skin.
  • Breathe out naturally and take your measurement and then take it again to ensure it is accurate.
  • Weight loss myths: How fat is lost from the body

Written by Sarah Marinos.

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