Common body measurements
There are many ways to measure, each with their pro’s and con’s, and some are more important to take note of than others.
Waist to hip ratio (WHR) is one of several measurements you can use to measure your body fat and help to predict your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Unlike your body mass index (BMI), which calculates the ratio of your weight to your height, WHR measures the ratio of your waist circumference to your hip circumference. It determines how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks.
Not all excess weight is the same when it comes to your health risks. People who carry more weight around their midsection (an apple-shaped body) are at higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and increased risk of mortality than those who carry more of their weight in their hips and thighs (a pear-shaped body). Even if your BMI is within a normal range, your risk for disease may be increased.
A few studies suggest that WHR is even more accurate than BMI for predicting the risks of cardiovascular disease and premature death. A 2015 study of more than 15,000 adults showed that a high WHR was linked to an increased risk of early death, even in people with a normal BMI.
The WHR is useful for certain groups of people. For example, WHR may be a better gauge of obesity in older adults whose body composition has changed.
The disadvantages of WHR is that it can be hard to get an accurate measurement of your hips, and because you are taking two measurements, errors may occur.
WHR can also be harder to interpret than waist circumference (another measurement of abdominal obesity). You might have a high WHR because you’ve gained weight in your abdomen. Or, you might simply have put on extra muscle around your hips from working out.
Certain people won’t be able to get an accurate measure using WHR, including those who are shorter than 5 feet tall and those who have a BMI of 35 or higher. WHR is also not recommended for use in children.
According to the world Health Organisation (WHO), a healthy WHR is:
0.9 or less in men
0.85 or less for women
In both men and women, a WHR of 1.0 or higher increases the risk for heart disease and other conditions that are linked to being overweight.
To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio
Stand up straight and breathe out. Use a tape measure to check the distance around the smallest part of your waist, just above your belly button. This is your waist circumference.
Then measure the distance around the largest part of your hips — the widest part of your buttocks. This is your hip circumference.
Calculate your WHR by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body mass index (BMI) is a tool used to determine whether you are in a healthy weight range for your height and to assess the risk of chronic disease.
It is useful to consider BMI alongside waist circumference, as waist measurement helps to assess risk by measuring the amount of fat carried around your middle.
BMI compares your weight to your height and is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres squared).
The BMI gives you an idea of whether you’re 'underweight', a 'healthy' weight, 'overweight', or 'obese' for your height. BMI is one type of tool to help health professionals assess the risk for chronic disease.
BMI is known for its inaccuracies, including being unable to distinguish if weight comes from fat or from lean tissue. Therefore, those with a lot of muscles may seem heavy for their height or overall size, because muscle is denser than fat. These people may have a high BMI but not have too much fat.
BMI can't tell that you've reduced a wide waist circumference and added muscle, creating a healthier body composition. Therefore, your waist size may be a better marker of your health status because it indicates where you store fat.
Waist circumference is a simple check to tell if you are carrying excess body fat around your middle.
Where your fat is on your body can be an important sign of your risk of developing ongoing health problems, including the level of internal fat deposits which coat the heart, kidneys, liver, digestive organs and pancreas. This can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Carrying excess body fat around your middle is more of a health risk than if weight is on your hips and thighs.
How to measure your waist
1. Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs.
2. Breathe out normally.
3. Place the tape measure midway between these points, you will find that it is the smallest area and is usually an inch above your belly button and wrap it around your waist.
4. Check your measurement.
Body fat is another common measurement, common ways to measure include using a measuring tape, using callipers or electrical bioimpedance. Body fat is used to determine your risk of chronic diseases, however, where the fat is stored and how much you have is the most important thing to consider. Visceral fat refers to the fat stored around your organs.
As you can see, some measurements are more meaningful than others. Whatever measurement you choose to take, be mindful that measurements will fluctuate for many reasons, including menstruation and water retention. Measuring too much puts a lot of focus on the numbers, and if you do not see the results you were after then this may create a sense of stress, which will release cortisol, which will inhibit weight loss further.
I recommend taking measurements every 2 – 4 weeks, and to use your “skinny jeans” as a gauge, this way you will be able to take note of what I consider to be the most important measurement for health, your abdominal circumference, whilst steering clear of those stress-inducing numbers.
Penelope Espinoza Hallett, Naturopath
BHsc (C.M.) AdvDip. Nat/N.D, Dip. Aroma, Dip. C.H., Cert. R.M., Cert. R.M., Cert. SBM, mNHAA