We all have different body shapes, and our own body shape can change over time. This blog takes a look at how we can measure body shape using two metrics (the waist to hip ratio and waist circumference) and what these mean for your health.
WAIST TO HIP RATIO
This is a comparison of the waist’s circumference compared to the hips’.
You may have heard about people being described as having an “apple” or “pear” shaped body. This is a simple way of thinking about waist to hip ratios (WHR).
The significance of this is related to the health effects your body shape can have. An apple shape is linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and shortened life expectancy. This is because the fat distribution is focused on the center of the body (and is termed central adiposity), around vital organs.
Pear-shaped bodies have a different distribution of fat – around the buttocks and thighs. This is far away from the vital organs and is not associated with poor health outcomes.
How can I check my body shape?
To check your own measurements all you need is a tape measure!
For measuring your waist, look at where your stomach looks the narrowest. If you can’t tell where this is (most people can’t!), measure just above your belly button around the stomach.
To measure your hips, look at the area which sticks out the most around the buttock-area and measure around there.
Then divide the first measurement by the second measurement.
If you are a “pear” you have a narrow waist with wide hips.
Another way of saying this is that a “pear” shaped person has more weight below the waist.
If you have an “apple” shape your waist is less defined and you have more weight above the waist than a “pear” shaped body.
In some cases the ratio is more than 1. This occurs when the waist is rather much larger than the hip measurement and is commonly seen with a “beer gut”.
E.g. 38 inches (waist) / 34 inches (hip) = 1.4
What does the number mean? A high number ultimately means that you are at an increased risk of ill-health from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Waist circumference is a useful measure of central adiposity and combined with the BMI classification can help assess health risk.
When you measure your waist circumference, you can use that number to calculate your Waist to Hip Ratio. But that measurement has significance on its own.
If you are a man and your waist circumference is 37 inches (94cm) or more you are at risk. Adding 3 more inches (40 inches or 102cm) puts you at greatly increased risk.
The levels are different for women; the at-risk level is 31.5 inches (80cm) and the greatly increased risk cut-off is 34.5 inches (88cm).
With a healthy BMI (18.50 – 24.99) an increased waist circumference does increase the risk of health problems.
And if you already have obesity related complications, like diabetes or heart disease (e.g. angina) you should be seeing your healthcare provider about getting help with your obesity no matter what your waist circumference.