What is Waist Circumference?

Find out if your waist measurement is healthy

Cropped shot of a young woman measuring her waist in the bathroom
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Waist circumference is a measurement taken around the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus (belly button). Health experts use waist circumference to screen patients for possible weight-related health problems.

Why Waist Circumference Matters

Measuring the size of your waist can help you to understand your risk for certain health conditions that are related to your weight. Waist circumference alone cannot indicate that you have a medical condition or that you'll get one in the future.

But it can help you and your health care provider to determine where fat is located on your body and if that fat may cause health problems for you in the future.

According to the National Institutes of Health, if more fat is located around your waist rather than around your hips, you are at higher risk for conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You can also use your waist measurement to calculate your waist-hip ratio (WHR). Waist-hip ratio provides another screening tool for weight-related disease risk.

How to Measure Waist Circumference

To measure waist circumference correctly, you should use a flexible tape measure that is not elastic. The tape measure should not stretch when you are taking your belly measurement. You should also remove any bulky clothing that can add padding at the abdomen.

Stand up to get an accurate waist measurement. Then, wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your stomach, across your belly button.

The tape measure should rest gently on your skin. Once the tape measure is positioned correctly, breathe in gently and then take the measurement on the exhale.

Take the measurement two or three times to make sure you get a consistent result. Holding the tape too tight so that it digs into your flesh, or holding it too loosely so that it droops will cause you to get an incorrect result.

Is  My Waist Circumference Normal?

So how does your waist circumference measure up? Use this chart to see if your risk for disease is higher than normal.  If your waist measurement is greater than the numbers indicated, your risk for weight-related health problems is higher than normal.

Higher Risk Waist Circumference Measurements

  • Men: 40 or more inches or 102 centimeters or more
  • Women: 35 or more inches or 89 centimeters or more

Steps to Reduce Your Waist Measurement

If your waist circumference is too high, you can work with your doctor or take steps on your own to lose body fat and reduce the fat in your midsection to improve your health and well-being.

The first step to slimming your waist measurement is to evaluate your eating habits. Are you eating more than you need to at meal time? Do you snack often between meals? Do you consume high calorie soft drinks or sweetened juice beverages? Do you buy processed foods that are full of empty calories?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you'll have plenty of choices to cut calories from your diet. You may want to start by cutting portion sizes when you eat a large meal. Or if you're not sure how much to eat, use a calorie calculator to estimate your needs.

Then count calories to make sure you getting the right amount.

Once you've got your diet in line, then increase your activity level to burn more calories all day. Again, use a calorie estimator to find out how many calories you currently burn each day, then add small habit changes to burn a few more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work or go for a walk every evening after dinner. Every step counts in your path to healthy living. 

Sources:

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Assessing Your Weight. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity . Accessed: December 19, 2015. http://http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: December 19, 2015. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/risk.htm

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Classification of Overweight and Obesity by BMI, Waist Circumference, and Associated Disease Risks. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: December 19, 2015. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmi_dis.htm

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