Waist-to-hip ratio: Meaning and how to measure

Waist-to-hip ratio lets you know the amount of fat you have around your waist compared to your hips. So, it waist-to-hip ratio better than BMI to know about your health?

We often rely on either a regular weighing scale or Body Mass Index (BMI) to know about our health status. But it may not be the best thing to do, as a person’s waist-to-hip ratio is believed to say more about their health. Those who have more weight around the waist area than the hips may be at a higher risk of developing health conditions, including diabetes. It is only the waist-to-hip ratio that can tell you if you have more weight in the middle area of your body than your hips. Read on to know how to measure your waist-to-hip ratio and what it tells you about your health.

What is waist-to-hip ratio?

Waist-to-hip ratio or WHR is a way to measure the distribution of fat in your body. You can find it by dividing the size of your waist by the size of your hips. It helps to understand how much fat you carry around your waist compared to your hips, shares diabetes and bariatric surgeon Dr Ramen Goel.

What is the healthy waist-to-hip ratio?

Healthy waist-to-hip ratio for women is 0.85, according to the World Health Organization. The waist-to-hip ratio should be low, as it is good for your heart. Low ratio means you have less fat around your waist. It lowers the risk of getting type 2 diabetes because having less fat around your waist helps your body use insulin better, explains the expert. Also, it keeps your hormones balanced, which is important for your overall health.

A woman pointing at her hip to measure waist-to-hip ratio
Take a tape measure to calculate WHR. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to calculate the waist-to-hip ratio?

While trying to find out WHR, make sure to measure your waist at the narrowest point and your hips at the widest point. Use a flexible tape measure and keep it snug, but not too tight. Also, use the same units (like inches or centimeters) for both measurements, suggests Dr Goel.

1. Waist

To measure the waist circumference, you need to stand straight and breathe out. Then measure your waist just above your navel with a tape measure. You should measure your waist at the smallest point.

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2. Hips

To measure the circumference of your hips, you need to stand up again. Unlike your waist, for hips, wrap a tape measure around the part of your hips that is the widest.

After taking down the measurements, divide your waist circumference by the hip circumference. The figure that you get is your waist-to-hip ratio.

Is waist-to-hip ratio a better indicator for health than BMI?

Body mass index or BMI is a measure of body mass based on your height and weight. In terms of accuracy, the waist-to-hip ratio may be better than BMI in predicting serious health conditions like heart disease and cancer apart from death, according to a 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open.

Another study published in the Frontiers in Public Health in 2021
showed that people with an apple-shaped body (those who have more weight around their midsection) may be at a higher risk of premature death,
type 2 diabetes and heart disease than those with a pear-shaped body. The ones with this body type have more weight in their hips and thighs.

BMI is useful, but it does not tell you where your fat is or if it is harmful. Also, BMI does not differentiate between fat and muscle. This limitation makes it less useful for people with large amounts of muscle mass.

As for the waist-to-hip ratio, it is helpful because it shows if you have too much fat around your waist, which is linked to health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

BMI is an easy measure, but it is not the most accurate predictor of health status, says the expert. While WHR is comparatively difficult to measure, it is more accurate health determinant and so, more people are accepting WHR as a health measure in people.

A woman measuring waist for waist-to-hip ratio
Waist-to-hip ratio has some disadvantages. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the disadvantages of waist-to-hip ratio?

Waist-to-hip ratio does not give the whole picture because it does not consider things like how big your body is overall or how much muscle you have. It can also be different for people based on their gender and ethnicity.

People may make mistakes while measuring WHR, so don’t rely on it to know about health risks. Consult your doctor about your weight, diet, lifestyle and health issues, if any, to get a complete picture.