How to Measure Your Waist Circumference and Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Your waist circumference is one way to determine whether you have an increased amount of fat around your belly and whether you’re at an increased health risk. The National Institutes of Health says that a high waist circumference is associated with an increased risk for health conditions like hypertension, elevated blood lipids, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Even if your BMI has indicates you’re at a healthy weight, it’s possible to have too large of a waist circumference. On the other hand, if you’re muscular and have a high BMI but suspect you have a lower body fat percentage, waist circumference is a great way to determine your risk.

To help reduce your risk of medical complications, your waist circumference should be:

  • Less than 35 inches for women

  • Less than 40 inches for men

To accurately measure your waist circumference, follow these steps:

  1. Locate your upper hip bone.

    You can find the proper spot by placing your hands around your waist, squeezing slightly, and then moving your fingers downward until you feel the top curve of your hips.

  2. Place a tape measure around your bare stomach just above the upper hip bone.

    Make sure the measuring tape is parallel to the floor (slanting can falsely increase your measurement). Also ensure that the tape measure is snug to your body, but not so tight that it compresses the skin. Exhale while measuring and relax your abdomen — sucking in is not allowed!

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After you determine your waist circumference, you’re ready to check out your waist-to-hip ratio, which is a measurement that compares the size of your hips to the size of your waist. The smaller your waist is in comparison to your hips, the lower your risk for heart disease. Even if you’re overweight and have a high waist circumference, your waist-to-hip ratio is an important measurement.

If your waist circumference is high, but your waist-to-hip ratio is low, you may have less of a risk of heart disease than another individual with both an elevated waist circumference and elevated waist-to-hip ratio.

The waist-to-hip ratio is especially important for individuals at a normal body weight. This measurement is an excellent way to see whether you’re storing too high a percentage of your body weight in your abdomen.

Follow these steps to determine your waist-to-hip ratio:

  1. Using a tape measure, measure the circumference of your hips.

    First look in a mirror and identify the widest part of your buttocks. Then place the tape measure at this location and measure around the circumference of your hips and buttocks.

  2. Using your waist circumference measurement, calculate your waist-to-hip ratio by dividing your waist circumference by your hip measurement.

    After you’ve determined your waist-to-hip ratio, use the following table to check your level of risk.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio and Risk
Male Waist-to-Hip Ratio Female Waist-to-Hip Ratio Health Risk
0.95 or below 0.80 or below Low risk
0.96–1.0 0.81–0.85 Moderate risk
1.0+ 0.85+ High risk
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