Taking a waistline measurement has become the recommended way for an individual to gain a snapshot of their health, particularly their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
“It’s simple to do and simple to understand,” says Professor Ian Olver from Cancer Council Australia.
By measuring your waist you are, in effect, measuring your amount of abdominal fat, also known as visceral or adipose fat. This is different to and more dangerous than the “pinchable” fat that lies directly under the skin (subcutaneous fat).
How to measure your waistline
- Find the top of your hip bone and the bottom of your ribs.
- Breathe out normally, to allow for the most accurate measurement.
- Place a belt midway between these points (this is your waist and is often in line with your bellybutton) and wrap it around your waist.
- Mark your waist measurement on the belt.
- Place your belt on top of the belt pictured or line it up against a tape measure.
Tip: If you suffer from bloating or fluid retention, it’s best to measure your waist first thing in the morning.
Link to chronic disease
“Fat around your abdomen is fat around your vital organs – your heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas,” Dr Robert Grenfell from The Heart Foundation says. “Having extra fat here stops the organs from doing their job properly.”
While scientists still don’t fully understand the connection between abdominal fat and chronic disease, they do know that abdominal fat disrupts the body’s metabolism and the way blood vessels work. This raises blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, upping the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Olver says abdominal fat raises the risk of some cancers because it disrupts our hormone production and raises the amount of inflammatory cells in the body.
“The disruption to hormone production is thought to be the reason why this type of fat is linked with higher risk of endometriosis and breast cancer,” Olver says. “And inflammation in the body is always associated with cancer.”
Oesophageal, colon, kidney and prostate cancers are also linked with abdominal fat.
Your waistline is just one of many factors affecting your risk of chronic disease – others include family history, age, smoking status, diet and exercise. But it is so important because it is modifiable, Olver says.
What you can do
- See your GP. “A GP will assess your risk of a heart attack by looking at your history, your blood pressure and your cholesterol, and also check your blood-glucose levels to assess your risk of diabetes,” Grenfell says.
- Set moderate, achievable lifestyle goals to reduce your waistline. Grenfell recommends people start with regular walking and gradually cut out takeaway and high-fat foods while introducing more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains into their diet. b+s medical expert Dr Cindy Pan adds that keeping a food diary can be very helpful.
- Consider circuit training. If you already do regular walking or running, try adding some circuit training – intense, shorter workouts that use a variety of muscle groups, says b+s fitness expert Damien Kelly. “You want to do a workout that makes you feel sore afterwards – that’s a sign of muscle breakdown. It’s in the repair phase that the body burns a?lot of fat,” Kelly says.
What your measurements mean
79cm or less for women, 93cm or less for men
Your waistline is not affecting your risk of chronic disease. It is still a good idea to have your heart health checked by your GP, and to maintain your healthy eating and active lifestyle habits.
80cm or more for women, 94cm or more for men
You have a slightly raised risk of chronic disease. It is recommended you get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-glucose levels tested, and look at your diet and exercise.
88cm or more for women, 102cm or more for men
You have a significantly higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and some cancers. You also have a moderately increased risk of other cancers, including breast cancer. It is strongly recommended you get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-glucose levels tested, and discuss lifestyle changes to reduce your weight with your GP.