Do you know your waist-to-hip ratio? If not, you should! It’s more than just an aesthetic issue. Your waist-to-hip ratio says a lot about your health and your risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
So important are waist size and waist-to-hip ratio, which healthcare providers believe it’s more important than body mass index (BMI) for determining health risks. Based on studies looking at waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio and health risks, research shows a higher WHR is correlated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure.
Why is a high WHR problematic? It has something to do with deep belly fat, known as visceral fat.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio Is a Marker for More Visceral Fat
The reason a high WHR is so risky is it’s a marker of high quantities of visceral fat,
a deep abdominal fat that lies beneath the muscle and surrounds the organs. It’s also known as “intra-abdominal fat” because it’s inside the abdominal cavity.
This type of fat is different from subcutaneous fat found just under the skin, the pinchable kind. Visceral fat is more dangerous because it’s a risk factor for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This fat is also pro-inflammatory, which means that it can contribute to inflammation throughout the body.
Higher levels of visceral fat are linked with insulin resistance and other hormonal abnormalities that increase the risk of health issues. It’s a marker for potential health problems in the future. Plus, a study linked more visceral fat with a higher risk of all-cause mortality in men.
If you don’t know your ratio, it’s time to get out the tape measure and see where you stand. Here’s how to get your waist-to-hip ratio.
How to Get Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio
To get your WHR, start by measuring the size of your waist. To take your waist measurement, stand up as straight as possible and exhale. Measure around the narrowest portion of your torso just above your belly button. Keep the tape measure taut, but don’t pull on it. Record the number.
Now measure your hips. Stand straight with your heels together and measure the area around the fullest part of your buttocks. Again, keep the tape measure taut without applying too much pressure.
Once you have your waist and hip measurements, divide your waist circumference by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio. For example, if your waist measurement is 26 inches and your hips measure 35 inches, your waist-to-hip ratio is 26/35 or 0.74.
Interpreting Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio
What’s a good WHR? If you’re female, a healthy waist-to-hip ratio is 0.80 or less based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control. In the example above, 0.74 is a healthy waist-to-hip ratio. A healthy ratio for men would be 0.90 or less.
If you have a ratio that falls outside these boundaries, you may be at higher risk for health problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. According to a study published in the journal Lancet, waist-to-hip ratio better predicts the risk of heart attack in people who are overweight than their BMI.
What Can You Do to Improve Your WHR?
A combination of dietary changes and exercise can help reduce visceral abdominal fat and your risk of health problems, but first talk to your doctor. Let them know that you have a high WHR, so they can track it when you come in for a physical. Surprisingly, many healthcare practitioners don’t measure waist size or follow it over time. That’s why you should do it at home and record the values.
Lifestyle Changes for Improving WHR and Reducing Visceral Fat
Cut back on processed carbs and sugary foods and replace these foods with lean protein and non-starchy vegetables. Fiber-rich foods, like non-starchy vegetables, help reduce insulin spikes that contribute to visceral fat.
A regular workout program that includes both aerobic exercise and strength training will also help reduce visceral fat if you’re consistent with your workouts. High-intensity exercise is best for reducing visceral fat. Stress can contribute to visceral fat too by stimulating the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that adds fat to your waistline.
Meditation and yoga can help reduce cortisol. Too much cortisol increases blood sugar levels and also suppresses the immune system. Cortisol is necessary for survival, but it can also be detrimental if you release too much in response to stress.
Poor Sleep Can Increase Visceral Fat Too
When you’re under chronic stress, your body is in a constant state of fight-or-flight, which can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep. This can lead to insomnia, which can further increase visceral fat.
Chronic stress can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can also be beneficial for stress management too. By practicing yoga and meditation, you can learn to control your stress response and reduce the amount of cortisol your body produces. This can lead to improved health and well-being.
Making these lifestyle changes can help you to reduce visceral fat, waist size, and improve your overall health. Lastly, see your doctor to have your blood pressure, blood sugar and triglyceride level checked if you have a high waist-to-hip ratio since people with WHR can have problems in these areas.
- Seidell JC, Pérusse L, Després JP, Bouchard C. Waist and hip circumferences have independent and opposite effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors: the Quebec Family Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001;74(3):315-321. doi:10.1093/ajcn/74.3.315.
- McNeely MJ, Shofer JB, Leonetti DL, Fujimoto WY, Boyko EJ. Associations Among Visceral Fat, All-Cause Mortality, and Obesity-Related Mortality in Japanese Americans. Diabetes Care. 2012;35(2):296-298. doi:10.2337/dc11-1193
- Lancet. 2005;366:1589-1591, 1640-1649.
- Medscape.com. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition”
- “Waist-to-Hip Ratio: Chart, Ways to Calculate, and More – Healthline.” 18 Nov. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/waist-to-hip-ratio.
- Kuk JL, Katzmarzyk PT, Nichaman MZ, Church TS, Blair SN, Ross R. Visceral fat is an independent predictor of all-cause mortality in men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Feb;14(2):336-41. doi: 10.1038/oby.2006.43. PMID: 16571861.