Looking fit, feeling fit
Working out is about more than just looking good, but sometimes appearance really can be an indication of health. Take the waist to hip ratio, for instance, which works on the basis that the waist measurement should be in certain proportions with the hip measurement.
This is a simple and useful tool for measuring body fat, as a supplement to body mass index (BMI) calculations. BMI is a helpful guideline to identify weight categories, but even people with a ‘good’ BMI can be at risk of health problems if they are carrying extra fat around the stomach area. People with a high waist to hip ratio are more susceptible to strokes, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (NHS, 2016).
Why is it an indicator of risk?
Two different people could have the same proportions of body fat, but the way it is distributed makes a difference to the overall health of the person. Someone whose fat is stored on their buttocks and thighs (a pear shaped figure) is less at risk of health complications than someone whose excess fat is sitting around their middle (also known as an apple shaped figure). Abdominal fat is more closely linked with heart disease and other problems.
The waist to hip ratio is only a reliable indicator for adults; children under 18 should just be using BMI if there are weight concerns (NHS, 2016).
To get your waist measurement, simply stand up and measure your waist at the narrowest point, halfway between the top of your hips and the lowest of your ribs. This will probably be close to your belly button. Try to stand naturally while you take the measurement, and do it after a normal out-breath (don’t suck in your stomach).
To get your hip measurement, stand up and measure the widest point around your hips – typically the widest part of the buttocks. Don’t let the tape measure gather any slack, but don’t pull it too tightly either; it needs to sit closely but comfortably against the skin for an accurate measurement.
Doing the maths
At this stage, the waist measurement alone is a starting point for assessing health. If the measurement is above 37 inches (94cm) for a man, or more than 31.5 inches (80cm) for a woman, then weight loss is a sensible idea. Contrary to what some people might assume, these figures are universal, irrespective of the person’s height or BMI. For any man with more than 40 inches waist circumference (102cm), or any woman whose waist is above 34 inches (88cm), it is more urgent to lose weight as they will be very high risk. (NHS, 2016)
To finish calculating the waist to hip ratio, enter the measurements and gender on an online calculator such as this one (Bupa, 2016) for the easiest and fastest results. To perform the calculation manually, just divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
Making sense of the numbers
For men, a ratio of 0.95 or under puts them at low risk. A ratio between 0.96 and 1.0 makes them a moderate risk. A ratio above 1.0 makes them high risk.
For women, a ratio of 0.80 or below puts them at low risk. A ratio between 0.81 and 0.85 makes them a moderate risk. A ratio above 0.85 makes them high risk.
BMI-Calculator.net (2016) Waist to Hip Ratio Calculator, accessed from http://www.bmi-calculator.net/waist-to-hip-ratio-calculator/waist-to-hip-ratio-chart.php