Why body shape matters

Many doctors believe that when it comes to your health, your waist measurement is important.

While body mass index (BMI) is a good way to tell if you're a healthy weight, it doesn't tell the whole story.

BMI is a measure of how healthy your weight is for your height. You can find your BMI using our BMI healthy weight calculator.

If your BMI is over the healthy range, this means you're probably carrying extra fat. But did you know your health could be at greater risk depending on where you store that fat?

We store spare body fat under the skin and also around the vital organs in our abdomen. Fat around the abdomen causes more health problems than, say, fat carried around the bottom or on the thighs.

Having a large amount of tummy fat (when compared with having fat around the bottom or thighs) makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart problems.

If you have a lot of fat around your abdomen, you can get advice from the video at the bottom of this page on how to lose it.

Measure your waist

To find your true waist, feel for your hip bone on one side.

Move upwards until you can feel the bones of your bottom rib. Halfway between is your waist. For most people this is where their belly button is.

Use a mirror the first time to see what you're doing and to make it easier to measure.

For women:

  • Ideal: less than 80cm (32")    
  • High: 80cm to 88cm (32" to 35")
  • Very high: more than 88cm (35")

For men:

  • Ideal: less than 94cm (37")
  • High: 94cm to 102cm (37" to 40")
  • Very high: more than 102cm (40")  

How to calculate waist-to-hip ratio

Working out the risk to your health is simple. Using a tape measure, take the following steps:

  1. Measure your hips
  2. Measure your waist
  3. Divide the waist number by the hip number

A ratio of 1.0 or more in men or 0.85 or more in women indicates you are carrying too much weight around your middle. This puts you at increased risk of diseases linked to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Your body shape

If you carry excess weight around your abdomen, that means you're an "apple" shape. Those who carry excess fat around the bottom and thighs are "pear" shaped.

Anyone who is carrying excess weight anywhere on the body would benefit from losing that weight. But if you're an apple shape, it's particularly important that you take action to achieve a healthy weight.

You can do this by making lifestyle changes to improve your diet and increase your physical activity.

Physical activity can improve the health of anyone who is overweight, and it's not just a matter of burning calories: your heart, lungs and circulation will benefit, too.

More information

Begin your weight loss journey with the 12-week NHS weight loss plan.

There is lots more information on achieving a healthy weight in Lose weight.

Learn about healthy eating in Food and diet.

Find ideas to help you get active in Fitness.

Page last reviewed: 24/08/2015

Next review due: 24/08/2017


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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

maria42 said on 26 September 2015

The article should read that women should have a waist/hip ratio of 0.85 or LESS, not 0.85 or more. It is a misprint.

A ratio of 1 = the waist and hips are of equal size, which is obviously not good.

A lower ratio = a bigger difference between waist and hip measurement (which is what you're aiming for).

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sachtastic said on 20 June 2013

Note on @xlynnx's comment- it's not true. This is dangerous information which I tried to report as possibly triggering for those with eating disorders but was shot down.

Ideal WHR for women is 0.9 for optimal fertility, and 0.85 for athletic fitness.

If I tried to slim myself down to an 0.7, I'd have a 9 inch waist (or more likely, be dead) by the time I finished.

A casual reminder that you can't believe everything you hear on the internet (including this).

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kmar said on 11 April 2009

I'm a bit confused. I've lost over half a stone and my BMI has improved, but my hip/waist ratio is now worse. Looking at the BMI, if I lost enough to reduce my hip/waist ratio by the recommended 5 inches I'd be close to underweight!

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xlynnx said on 19 February 2009

the waist to hip ratio for a woman should ideally be 0.7 and men should be 0.9

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manic monkey said on 19 December 2008

I have spent £'s on BMI. I'm quite short and stocky so BMI is not a particularly good measure for me. The hips to waste ratio could be useful, but 1 there are no parameters shown so how can you guage what is good/bad. 2 Dividing waste by hips gives me a ratio of .91 is this good or bad?

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mar69 said on 12 July 2008

i have lost 5 stone but i have saggy belly and cant get rid i do exercise 20 hours a week or more

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Lose the belly

Around 1,000 people a week die from obesity-related conditions. If you want to get fit and lose the belly, watch this video to see how other men have done it.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

Lose weight

Weight loss resources to help you lose weight healthily, including the NHS 12-week diet and exercise plan

Food and diet

Find out how to achieve a healthy, nutritious diet to help you look and feel your best

Health and fitness

Boost your health and fitness with fun and practical ideas to get active and improve your general health