The waist-to-height ratio is used to measure body fat distribution. A higher ratio is related to increased risk of heart disease due to abdominal obesity.
Both waist-to-height ratio and BMI are popular screening tools for health risks connected to obesity. Both methods are quick and cost efficient to use.
Researchers presenting a study with more than 2900 individuals at the 2015 European Congress on Obesity have determined waist-to-height ratio measurements to be more accurate and more efficient for identifying heart disease risk when compared to using BMI alone.
When using BMI measurements, 41% of men and 29% of women in the study were classified as “normal”, but had waist-to-height ratios above normal. Researchers determine this would equal 12% of the population being misclassified as normal if only BMI measurements were utilized to assess risk.
Participants in this study were segmented into four groups.
- BMI above 25 and waist-to-height ratio above 0.5
- BMI below 25 and waist-to-height ratio above 0.5
- BMI above 25 and waist-to-height ratio below 0.5
- BMI below 25 and waist-to-height ratio below 0.5
Individuals with low or normal BMI, but with a high waist-to-height ratio (group #2 above) had higher total cholesterol and hemoglobin A1c levels when compared to individuals with a high BMI, but lower waist-to-height ratios (group #3 above).
These findings match what researchers found in a previous 2012 meta-analysis of 300,000 adults showing waist-to-height ratio provided better risk assessment. This lead researchers to conclude waist-to-height ratio is a superior screening tool over BMI.
Average total cholesterol levels were lowest for group #4 above (BMI below 25 and waist-to-height ratio below 0.5) and average total cholesterol was highest in group #1 above (BMI above 25 and waist-to-height ratio above 0.5).
How to calculate your waist-to-height ratio
Please note that waist-to-height ratio is not the same as waist-to-hip ratio. Waist-to-hip ratio is another tool for measuring body fat distribution. The studies we’ve discussed above are in regards to waist-to-height ratio.
To find your ratio, it is important to accurately measure your waist circumference.
- Take a measuring tape and place it directly on your skin. Do not measure your waist circumference over clothing.
- Measure your waist horizontally halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone.
- When you take the measurement, breathe out normally. Do not “suck it in”.
Obtaining an accurate height is best down at your doctor’s office where they have a wall-mounted measuring board. Measure your height when standing in a straight/erect position without shoes or any head gear. Do not tilt your head up.
Once you have your two measurements, divide waist circumference by height.
Waist: 36 inches
Height: 65 inches
36 divided by 65 = 0.55
While ideal ratios can vary for men versus women, the study above suggests that the healthiest ratio is less than 0.50 for both men and women.
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