What is Waist Circumference?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Waist circumference is the measurement around the waist that can indicate whether people are at risk for certain diseases often associated with obesity. This is not the only indication of too much body fat, but it can be an easy estimate as to whether people should consider losing weight. The potential results of having a higher waist circumference than is deemed healthy are multiple and include elevation of risks for developing heart disease, hypertension, or for becoming a Type II diabetic.

Measuring the circumference of the waist is one way to estimate body fat.
Measuring the circumference of the waist is one way to estimate body fat.

To get an accurate waist circumference measurement, people will need a flexible tape measure. People need to measure at the natural waist, which is usually the narrowest part of the waist, slightly above the navel (bellybutton). The tape measure is not a constriction device, and the goal of measuring is not to squeeze the tape measurer into the skin as far as possible to get the lowest reading. Another common strategy is to suck in the breath and hold it, resulting in a smaller reading. For better accuracy, measure loosely and breathe normally.

A person's waist measurement can indicate whether weight loss is needed.
A person's waist measurement can indicate whether weight loss is needed.

Medical experts usually define dangerous waist circumference as 35 inches (88.9 cm) or higher in women and 40 inches (101.6 cm) or higher in men. As previously stated, these readings are associated with higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes Type II and high blood pressure, which elevates risk for stroke. Even people who fall slightly below these measurements may be considered at increased risk because it’s easy to inch up, especially as the years pass and particularly if habits that promote this degree of belly fat around the waist aren’t changed.

Medical experts usually define dangerous waist circumference as 35 inches or higher in women.
Medical experts usually define dangerous waist circumference as 35 inches or higher in women.

When physicians or others analyze waist circumference, they often compare it to body mass index (BMI) to determine how the two things together should be viewed medically. Higher BMI, along with danger zone waist circumference are considered particularly difficult issues representing highest chance of developing life-threatening illnesses. Because BMI can be calculated with fairly basic information and measuring the waist is easy, most people will not need to visit their doctor to determine if their weight is putting them at risk.

A dangerous waist circumference is associated with high blood pressure and other ailments.
A dangerous waist circumference is associated with high blood pressure and other ailments.

If people do find they have a dangerous risk level waist measurement, it’s important to get some medical or nutritional help. Finding a way to alter diet so that the measurement slowly but surely decreases can be a great method for improving health. Typically physicians or dieticians recommend changes to diet and to exercise. Trying to quickly lose weight with fad diets is usually not thought ideal because many people swiftly regain weight they lose in this manner. The goal is to reduce waist measurement gradually, and thus risk of certain illnesses, through sustainable behavior changes.

A dangerous waist circumference for men is 40 inches or greater.
A dangerous waist circumference for men is 40 inches or greater.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Robottom

I had a really unsatisfactory waist circumference report from my doctor about two years ago. Like you, I have a family history of diabetes and my doctor was really pressuring me to shed some of the stomach weight and change my eating habits.

Well, I was never much of a dieter or exerciser, so I went to a nutritionist and I hired a personal trainer. The nutritionist really helped me customize an eating plan that worked for me. She also showed me how to plan simple, healthy meals that I could prep on the weekends and cook throughout the week. That advice was worth the cost of the visit.

However, the personal trainer I hired expected too much from me, so I parted ways with him after about three weeks of training. I took matters into my own hands, and decided that I would start walking around my neighborhood every day after work. I also vowed to walk around the subdivision at least once during the weekend.

I am happy to report that I have stuck to this regimen, and have lost a total of 32 pounds and a whopping 7 inches off of my waist!!! My doctor was ecstatic at my last check-up. If you can't get outside, I would suggest getting a treadmill or an elliptical machine and walk off that stubborn stomach weight. Best of luck to you.

WildGrin

My doctor recently gave me a "talking to" about my waist circumference. It's not good at all. And, since both of my parents are diabetics, my doctor is really, really concerned about my health. He wants me to eliminate all processed foods from my diet. He also wants me to get on a thrice-weekly, weight-reduction exercise regimen.

However, I HATE crunches and sit-ups. Does anyone know how I can shed some of this stubborn stomach weight without having to put myself through these excruciating exercises?

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