To most people fat is all the same, whether it’s deposited on their hips, thighs or tummy. But from a health standpoint, certain types of fat carry a higher health risk than others. People who carry most of their fat on their lower body, on their thighs and hips, are referred to as “pear-shaped,” while those who carry it in their abdominal and upper trunk region are “apple-shaped.” The pears have the benefit, at least when it comes to health. Which are you? One way to find out is to measure your waist-to-hip ratio.
Why Waist-to-Hip Ratio is So Important
A high waist-to-hip ratio, the classic apple shape, is linked with a greater risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and, possibly, some types of cancer. People who are apple-shaped have more visceral fat, fat deposited around and between organs in the pelvic cavity. This type of fat is linked with insulin resistance; a condition where cells in the body don’t respond as well to insulin the body produces. This can be a harbinger to type 2 diabetes and other health problems including heart attacks. Carrying fat around your hips and thighs in a classic pear distribution rather than an apple may be a blessing from a health standpoint.
Why You Should Know Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio
Your waist-to-hip ratio is another risk factor for disease just like high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels. According to a study published in The Medical Journal of Australia, waist-to-hip ratio is a better predictor of cardiovascular disease risk than body weight or BMI.
To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, measure your waist between your bottom rib and hip bones. Then measure your hip circumference at the widest point around your hips. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference to get your waist-to-hip ratio. If you’re female, a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.80 is considered healthy. For men, 0.90 or less is ideal.
What if Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio is Too High?
One of the most effective ways to reduce visceral fat is to exercise, and high-intensity exercise such as running or heavy resistance training is better than lower intensity workouts for blasting away visceral fat. Another way to target visceral fat is through diet. One study showed that following a moderately low-carbohydrate diet reduced visceral fat by 11%. That type of reduction could go far towards decreasing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The Bottom Line?
It’s just as important to know your waist-to-hip ratio as it is to know your weight or BMI. If you fall into the apple category, it’s time to take a closer look at your diet and start exercising. Visceral fat does more than just increase your waist size; it increases your risk of chronic health problems. Know your numbers.
Medscape.com. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition”
The People’s Pharmacy. “Low-Carb Diet Targets Visceral Fat”
The Medical Journal of Australia. MJA 2003; 179 (11/12): 580-585.