How To Measure It and Why It Matters

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WHR is a quick and easy measurement of fat distribution that can help determine a person’s overall risk for certain health conditions.

The WHR measurement involves using a tape measure to check the size of your waist and hips. WHR is found by dividing the circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips. Calculating WHR is easy, fast and costs nothing if you already have a tape measure!

Why is your waist-to-hip ratio important?

You may have heard of body mass index (BMI), which calculates the ratio between your weight and height. Many researchers find little value in BMI as a measure of health, because it does not help determine how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks.

Not all excess weight is the same when it comes to health risks. The WHR is handy because it specifically looks at the amount of fat on your waist, hips, and buttocks. Studies have shown that excess weight around the midsection and waist (visceral fat) is more strongly associated with chronic disease than excess weight around the hips or buttocks.

Conditions that are associated with excess mid- or visceral fat include high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and sleep apnea.

Body mass index (BMI) is a biased, dated measure that doesn’t take into account several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. Although a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community as it is an inexpensive and rapid method for analyzing potential health conditions and outcomes.

How to calculate waist-to-hip ratio?

A healthcare professional can calculate the WHR at an appointment, but you can also measure it yourself at home. You will need a calculator and a soft tape measure that you can wrap around your body.

Here’s how the WHR is measured:

  1. Take a waist circumference measurement: Wrap the tape measure around the narrowest part of the stomach, near or just above the navel. The tape measure should rest gently on your skin and should not be pulled tight. Once the tape measure is correctly positioned, inhale gently, then take the measurement as you exhale. Note the measurement in inches.
  2. Measure hip circumference: Stand with your feet straight under your hips and wrap the bandage around the widest part of your hips and buttocks. Note the measurement in inches.
  3. Calculate your WHR: Divide your waist size by your hip size to get your WHR.

The World Health Organization has established guidelines when assessing WHR and states that the threshold for a healthy WHR is 0.9 or less for men and 0.85 or less for women.

Example of waist-to-hip ratio

Let’s go through an example together so you can see how WHR works.

Meet Anne. Using a flexible tape measure, Anne measured her waist at the narrowest part near her navel. Waist measurement is 30 inches.

Next, Anne measured her hips at the widest part and recorded 38 inches. She will now use the calculator to divide her waist measurement by her hip measurement to determine her WHR.

30 (waist measurement) / 38 (hip measurement) = 0.78

Anne’s WHR is 0.78. Anne falls within the normal range because her WHR is less than 0.85, which is the WHO cut-off threshold for a healthy WHR for women.

Here’s another example with a man named Mark. His waist measurement is 43 inches and his hip measurement is 42 inches.

43 (waist measurement) / 42 (hip measurement) = 1.02

When comparing Mark’s WHR of 1.02 with the WHO limit for men of 0.9, it’s clear that Mark has a high WHR, which could put him at higher risk for certain chronic diseases.

To protect his health, Mark can work with his doctor and dietitian to learn more about other health parameters, such as blood pressure and blood sugar, eating habits, exercise Exercise and sleep patterns all affect health.

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WHR is just one measure of health – not the only aspect that matters. One weakness of the WHR is that the WHR was originally calculated for people of European descent, so it may not account for differences in body composition across other ethnic and cultural groups around the globe.

Population studies around the world suggest that it is better to use cut-offs that are specific to ethnic groups, rather than using the same standard numbers for everyone.

Use WHR to improve your health

While WHR is just one measure of an individual’s health, there are several ways to use it for the benefit of your overall health.

Check the basic conditions

Before you start making lifestyle changes, see your doctor to have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar evaluated, and check for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Those things can also impact the changes that need to be made to improve overall health.

Change your diet

If your usual eating habits include meals high in fast food and ultra-processed foods that are high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar, there’s a good chance you’ll have to improve.

Start by adding more vegetables and fruits to your daily meals and snacks. One particular study found that a diet high in fruit and low in white bread, processed meat, margarine, and soft drinks could help prevent belly fat accumulation.

According to the USDA, a balanced plate includes 50% vegetables and fruits, 25% whole grains, and 25% protein sources, such as fish, legumes, poultry, or eggs.

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Increase your physical activity

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week, spread out over at least five days. Choose a combination of cardiovascular activities (such as walking, cycling, and swimming) and strength training (such as lifting weights).

A very good word

Remember, WHR is only one measure of disease risk, but it is certainly not the only one. Use it as a tool in your toolbox and check with your doctor or dietitian for a more complete health assessment.

frequently asked Questions

  • What is a healthy waist-to-hip ratio?

    According to the World Health Organization, a healthy WHR is 0.9 or less for men and 0.85 or less for women.

  • How do you measure your waist and hips?

    Wrap the tape measure around the narrowest part of your waist, near or above your navel. Note the measurement in inches. Next, straighten your legs under your hips and wrap the tape around the widest part of your hips and buttocks. Note the measurement in inches.

  • How can you improve your waist-to-hip ratio?

    Often, you can improve your WHR with lifestyle changes, such as improving your eating habits and being more physically active.

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