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How to Measure, Health Connection, and More

Your natural waistline hits at the area between the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your rib cage. Your waistline may be bigger or smaller depending on your genetics, frame size, and lifestyle habits. Measuring the circumference of your waist may help clue you in to your health.

A larger waistline may mean you’re carrying excess abdominal fat, which may put you at higher risk of obesity-related health conditions.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, you can be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease if you are a man with a waistline of more than 40 inches (101.6 cm) or a woman with a waistline of more than 35 inches (88.9 cm).

Read on to learn more about your waistline, and the connection between your waistline and your health.

To measure your waistline at home, all you need is a tape measure and some simple instructions.

  • Begin by clearing your abdomen of any clothing that might skew measurements.
  • Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs. This is your waist, the space you’ll want to measure around.
  • Exhale a normal breath out.
  • Wrap your tape measure around your waist so it is parallel to the floor. Don’t pull too tight or let the tape fall too loosely.
  • Record your measurement.
  • Understanding your measurements

    Your doctor may be your best reference for understanding what a healthy waist size is for you. That’s because your individual body stats can affect your ideal measurements. For example, people who are particularly tall or short may have a different ideal waist size for health.

    Your waistline is just one of the three key measures of your overall health. Two other important considerations are body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio.

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    Your BMI is a rough measure of body fat. You can calculate your BMI by dividing your weight by the square of your height, or by using an online calculator.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the following BMI recommendations for adults:

    Your waist-to-hip ratio helps show how much weight you carry on your hips, thighs, and buttocks. To calculate, measure your waist circumference and your hip circumference. Then, divide your waist measurements by your hip measurements.

    According to the World Health Organization, your risk of metabolic complications, such as type 2 diabetes, increases when a man has a waist-to-hip ratio result of more than 0.9 and a woman has a result of more than 0.85.

    A 2011 review of studies on these measurements revealed that waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio appeared to have a more direct link to health conditions than BMI. This may be because BMI is only a general measure of fat. The number cannot tell you where the fat is distributed on the body.

    Increased disease risk

    Your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension increases if you are man with a waistline over 40 inches (101.6 cm) or a woman with a waistline over 35 inches (88.9 cm).

    Heart disease

    One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. A 2010 study noted that both BMI and waistline size can indicate your risk of heart disease.

    Other risk factors include:

    • poor diet
    • sedentary lifestyle
    • diabetes, obesity
    • heavy alcohol use

    Waistline size is also linked to metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which may lead to heart disease.

    Diabetes

    A 2015 study revealed that waist circumference is a better predictor of type 2 diabetes risk than BMI, particularly for women.

    The incidence of type 2 diabetes increases with age. Other risk factors include:

    • a family history of the disease
    • being overweight
    • being on certain medications
    • smoking
    • having high blood pressure
    • history of gestational diabetes
    • stress
    • high cholesterol or triglycerides
    • being from certain ethnic groups (African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander)

    Stroke

    One 2007 study showed that men with abdominal adiposity (large waist and waist-to-hip ratio) carried the highest risk of having a stroke in their lifetime. A high BMI increased stroke incidence in both men and women.

    Other risk factors for stroke include things like:

    Inflammation

    Inflammation in the body may contribute to conditions like:

    A 2017 study showed that people with larger waist circumferences had higher levels of chronic inflammation.

    Other factors that contribute to inflammation include:

    • poor diet
    • insufficient sleep
    • high stress levels
    • gum disease
    • high cholesterol

    Mortality

    A 2015 review of studies showed that people with larger waistlines may have a shorter life expectancy. In fact, men measuring 43 inches (110 cm) or higher had a 50 percent greater risk of death than those measuring 37 inches (94 cm) around.

    For women, the risk of death was some 80 percent higher with a waist measuring 37 inches (94 cm) compared to those measuring 27.5 inches (70 cm).

    These results did not appear to be influenced by other factors, like age, body mass index, smoking and alcohol use, or exercise habits.

    You may have a healthy waistline measure and weight, but if you’re carrying excessive fat around the middle, that can be considered a “red flag” and something worth chatting about with your doctor.

    Why? Belly fat is made up of both subcutaneous fat (a layer of padding under the skin) and visceral fat. The latter is deeper in the abdomen and surrounds your internal organs. When visceral fat builds, it coats the heart, kidneys, digestive system, liver, and pancreas,…

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