When we think about the perfect body proportions, the first thing that comes to mind is a lean woman with an hour-glass shaped figure. We know that a small waist in certain proportions to hips is accepted as a modern sign of attractiveness. There may be some evolutionary processes behind that logic in there: a proper waist-hip proportion can show if a person is healthy, therefore, attractive as a potential partner.
A great example is Marylin Monroe – her waist circumference, according to different sources was 22 inches (56 cm) in corseted clothes and 26 inches (66 cm) in a ‘free form’. Besides being a beauty icon, with 35 inches (89 cm) hips she held a perfect waist-to-hip ratio of 0.74, and by ‘perfect’ we mean perfectly healthy. Let’s find out why just the two numbers can help anyone – not only women – monitor their state of health easily and for free.
Waist-to-hip ratio – what is it?
In simple words, the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a measure of body fat distribution that can signal obesity and potential health issues that significantly affect longevity and lifespan.
This number is determined by dividing the circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips and is typically expressed as a percentage or decimal.
Waist circumference alone can be used to measure body fat, but measuring both the waist and hips provides a more accurate estimate of body fat:
The higher WHR – the more abdominal fat the person has.
A lower WHR indicates greater lower-body fat.
Disclaimer: It is important to note that WHR may not be an accurate measure of health for individuals who are very muscular or elderly. Further research is needed to determine if WHR is an effective indicator of health in these groups.
High waist-to-hip ratio: what does it show?
A high result of WHR can be an indicator of many existing problems with health. It’s your warning sign to pay attention to the different processes in your body.
1It is the main sign of abdominal obesity
Measuring the WHR is one of the main ways to determine general and abdominal obesity in clinical practice.
Central or abdominal obesity is the condition when a person has unhealthy amounts of fat in their belly area. This means that their inner organs are also suffering from excessive visceral fat – an internal fat, located in between organs and the torso. Abdominal obesity is linked to many serious conditions and can be a predictor for a number of health problems, including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
There are several studies on waist-to-hip proportions suggesting various cut-off points for different ethnic groups, but most of them are pretty similar. According to the 2008 World Health Organization’s report, abdominal obesity is determined by a waist-hip ratio >0.85 for women and >0.90 for men.
2It is a consistent predictor of all-cause mortality
According to recent research, the waist-to-hip proportion is a strong predictor of all-cause mortality. It’s also more consistent in predicting lifespan and longevity problems than other anthropometric measurements of fitness, like BMI and FMI (Fat Mass Index).
The study that included data from over 25,000 Caucasian men and women showed the relationship between WHR and death from any cause increased linearly, meaning the risk of early death was lowest for those with the lowest WHR and then steadily increased with increasing WHR. However, the association between WHR and all-cause death was stronger in males than females.
3Associated with cardiovascular diseases
According to many studies, higher WHR leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial infarction risk and ischaemic stroke, which are the main enemies of longevity and prolonged lifespan.
The 2007 analysis that covered data from more than 258 thousand participants, showed that for every 0.01 U increase in waist-to-hip ratio, the risk of cardiovascular disease increased by 5%.
Another large study involving more than 44,000 women found that participants with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.76 or higher have more than double the risk factor for coronary heart disease compared to those without these measurements.
4Can be a sign of high diabetes risk
There is a significant and direct connection between type 2 diabetes risk and a high waist-to-hip proportion. The 2016 study that involved more than 1,300 people showed that the risk of diabetes increased by 28% respectively for every 10% increase in WHR for female participants.
The connection seems pretty obvious if we keep in mind that obesity is responsible for 80-85% of the risk of type 2 diabetes. The shocking statistics say that obese individuals are up to 80 times more likely to develop this lifespan and longevity-threatening condition compared with those who have a healthy weight.
5Can be a signal of high blood pressure
Besides other metabolism-related issues, higher WHR is connected to hypertension or high blood pressure. The 2022 study that included more than 6000 people showed the correlation between the percentage of hypertension cases and WHR. The number of cases was significantly increasing with the growth of the waist-to-hip ratio. Almost 40% of people with WHR over 1.01 had high blood pressure.
6May indicate high-stress levels
Many of us heard that prolonged stress can make one gain weight. Science agrees with that – if you have high waist-hip ratio, that can be a sign that your body is chronically affected by stress.
According to popular medical writer Jason Fung, MD, and his book ‘The Obesity Code’, research indicates a definitive connection between cortisol – aka body’s main stress hormone – and abdominal obesity. That is reflected in people with higher urinary excretions of cortisol and elevated waist-to-hip ratios. Individuals with higher cortisol in their saliva have also increased body mass index and waist-to-hip proportion.
The connection between cortisol and obesity is pretty simple – this hormone promotes increased levels of insulin in the body, which leads to potential insulin resistance. That condition is connected with obesity and is known to stop people from losing weight.
7Associated with fertility issues
Apple-type body shape is associated with fertility issues in both women and men. According to the study that involved 500 women, participants with high WHR (0.80 or higher) have significantly lower pregnancy rates than women with lower waist-to-hip ratios (0.70–0.79).
Another study suggested that there is a direct link between waist-to-hip proportion and central obesity to male fertility parameters such as progressive motility of semen and total sperm count. Overall, there is number of researches that showed that obesity may increase the risk of male infertility.
How to correctly measure the waist-to-hip ratio?
To get honest results, therefore, to find out more about your own health, you have to follow a specific protocol on waist-hip proportion.
1Get a straight posture
For correct measurements, you should stay straight, distributing your body weight evenly. Keep your arms at the sides, and feet close together.
2Relax and breathe normally
For many people, being measured is an uncomfortable experience, even if it’s an unconscious feeling. We try to suck in our bellies or hold our breath to appear fitter. If you want to monitor your health properly and know the real picture, you should stay relaxed and breathe normally during the measurements.
3Avoid having a feast before the procedure
Although some experts recommend measuring yourself after overnight fasting, you don’t have to do it with your stomach empty – just don’t have a feast right before the measurements. Eating a big meal can affect your waist circumference and lead to errors in your results.
4Don’t stretch your measuring tape
It’s recommended to use a standard measuring tape without stretching or pulling it around your body. If you feel the tape’s pressure on your skin, you’re probably doing it wrong.
5Don’t measure over clothes
This seems like common sense, but it must be stated: don’t take measurements over thick and warm clothes. It’s better to do it over naked skin or a thin piece of underwear.
6Choose the correct points to measure
The most important part of the protocol is to find the right sections for measuring.
Waist circumference should be measured at the most narrow part of your abdomen. For many people, it’s a couple of centimetres above the belly button.
Some medical professionals prefer to meet the ends of the tape from behind a person’s back as it’s flatter and it’s easier to keep the tape steady.
Hip circumference should be measured around the widest part of your hips – basically, you should aim for the top parts of your buttocks.
In all cases, the tape should be placed parallel to the ground.
The global WHR guidelines
Different health organizations and studies suggest various guidelines to determine a healthy waist-hip proportion. Currently, the main globally accepted system is the one published in 2008 by World Health Organization.
WHR as a part of determining your Fitness Age
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has developed a groundbreaking concept called fitness age (FA) to assess the biological impact of physical activity on longevity. The Cardiovascular Exercise Research Group conducted research on the relationship between physical activity and lifespan, discovering that fitness can be an accurate indicator of one’s overall health.
FA is a measure used to evaluate one’s level of physical fitness in comparison to their chronological age, with a focus on biological longevity. The FA score indicates how healthy and fit you are in relation to your actual age.
There are several methods to calculate FA and Healthypedia team created one of them – Fitness Age T&M Method. It uses several tests, including measures of cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition, to determine biological age. WHR is also an important part of determining one’s biological age via that method.
The results are then compared to population norms, and a score is generated. A lower score indicates a higher fitness age, while a higher score suggests a lower fitness age and greater biological longevity.
By improving your physical state, you can lower your FA and increase your lifespan. For example, a 35-year-old person can have a biological age of 25 by improving their fitness indicators, such as a higher VO₂ Max, handgrip strength, and better body composition. Conversely, a 50 years old person may have a FA of 70 due to weaker cardiovascular endurance, indicating a higher biological age than their actual age. Monitoring your FA and striving to improve your physical fitness indicators can help you achieve a longer lifespan and greater biological longevity.
Let’s sum up
The waist-to-hip proportion is one of the most simple and instant health indicators. It shows your weight distribution and potential or existing obesity. A high number may signal such health issues as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic stress, and lower fertility. The waist-hip measurement is free and can be done regularly at home, which is a very convenient way to monitor your health and check the dynamics of your metabolic issues. It’s also an important part of calculating your body’s real age known as the Fitness Age.
Hungry for knowledge? Here is more!
In this short video Dr. Evan L. Matthews – an associate professor of Exercise Science at Montclair State University – explains how to correctly measure your waist and hip circumferences. Clear and simple!
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