What Is Waist to Hip Ratio?

Your waist-to-hip ratio compares your waist measurement to your hip measurement. Higher ratios can mean you have more fat around your waist. This can lead to a higher risk for heart disease or diabetes.

Why Your Waist Size Is Important

Carrying too much weight around your waist can cause health problems. Your health is affected by where you store body fat, even if you have a healthy weight or a normal body mass index (BMI). 

Abdominal obesity. Too much fat around your waist is known as abdominal obesity. This fat is called visceral fat because it surrounds your liver and other organs. 

Visceral fat sends hormones, fatty acids, and other chemicals that cause inflammation into your body. This leads to higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose. It also leads to higher levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood.  

Fat around your waist can make you more likely to have other health problems, including:

This can affect both men and women, but men are more likely to have too much fat around the waist. Women are more likely to carry fat around their hips and thighs. 

Waist to Hip Ratio vs. Body Mass Index

Your waist-to-hip ratio compares your waist size to your hip size. By contrast, your body mass index measures your weight against your height.

Which is best? Your waist-to-hip ratio might give you a better picture of your health than your weight or your BMI. You can be at a healthy weight but have too much fat around your midsection. A good rule of thumb is that your waist should be smaller than your hips, no matter your weight or BMI.   

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How to Measure Your Waist to Hip Ratio

Your doctor can measure your waist to hip ratio, or you can find it on your own. Here’s how. 

Measure at the smallest point. Wrap a tape measure around your waist at the smallest point, usually around your belly button. This is your waist circumference. Record the number. 

Measure your hips. Next, wrap the tape measure around your hips at the widest part. This is your hip circumference. Record the number.

Divide. Use a calculator to divide your waist size by your hip size. This is your waist-to-hip ratio.

Record your ratio. WHO defines abdominal obesity in men as a waist-to-hip ratio of at least 0.90. For women, it’s a ratio of 0.85 or more. A ratio higher than 1.0 for either sex means a much higher chance of health problems.  

How to Use Waist-to-Hip Ratio to Improve Your Health

If your ratio is on the high end, try these tips to lower it:‌

Be more active. Most people who have too much fat on their waist or are overweight consume more calories or energy than they use. Without enough activity, your body stores the energy as fat. The simplest way to lose weight and lower your waist-to-hip ratio is to eat less and be more active.

More activity in your day can help you use up some of the energy you take in from food. Aim for a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. ‌Moderate-intensity exercise can include:

  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Brisk walking
  • Hiking
  • Pushing a lawnmower
  • Inline skating or roller skating

Change your diet. A balanced diet can help you lower your waist size. Try to include:

  • At least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day
  • Whole-grain and high-fiber foods 
  • Some dairy or dairy alternatives
  • Unsaturated oils and spreads
  • 6 to 8 glasses of fluids
  • Beans, fish, meat, eggs, or other proteins
  • Less sugary drinks and more water
  • Fewer foods high in fat, salt, and sugar

Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to build a meal plan to help you lose weight safely. 

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Preventing a High Waist to Hip Ratio

Sometimes, health conditions can cause you to gain weight around your waist. These might include:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS)
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Some people eat to feel better when they’re stressed, but this can lead to weight gain. They might then feel worse because they’ve gained weight, and this can turn into a vicious cycle. Try to find a different way to distract yourself like:

  • Reading a book
  • Taking a walk
  • Talking to a friend
  • Exercising

‌Taking your medications and managing your health can help you keep a healthy weight and a trim waist. If you’re concerned about your health or your waist size, make sure to talk to your doctor. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Waist Size Matters.”

NHS: “Eat well,” “Exercise,” “9 medical reasons for putting on weight,” "Why is my waist size important?”

UAB: “What’s Your Waist to Hip Ratio?”

WHO: “Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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