Waist not weight: why your waist measurement matters more than your weight

Should we be shunning the scales in favour of a tape measure? Evergreen Life looks at why your waist measurement might be a better indicator than your weight.

We know that obese people have poorer Covid outcomes. It seems like a simple connection with weight. But actually weight and fat are not as tightly related as you might think.  In fact, stepping on the scales to measure your weight can be misleading as a way of predicting health problems. The body mass index (BMI) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. But it may not always give you the full picture. Your body fat percentage or waist measurement are more significant indicators or predictors of potential health problems.

It might be more helpful to ditch the terms ‘overweight/underweight’ for ‘overfat/underfat.’ In 2017, an estimated 70% of the world has become overfat – with that figure rising to a shocking 90% in countries like the USA and Greece. But what does that mean? Overfat describes a body fat level that can actually hurt your health. For men, a healthy body fat percentage lies between 8-19%; for women 21-33% is ideal.

Let’s take a look at why weight and BMI are potentially misleading, and how to get a more accurate picture of your health using the simple tape measure.

You must speak to your GP about any unintentional increase or decrease in your weight. This may be a sign of significant illness.

Weighing up the scales

Evergreen Life’s Wellbeing Survey reported that body weight scales were by far the most common method of measuring health and wellbeing among 42% of the 1,341 respondents. That’s probably because it’s become like a morning ritual for us – the scales looming in the corner of the bathroom ready for us to step onto before we start our day.

But weight scales don’t know whether you’re a muscular athlete or a growing teenager. And that’s a key issue.

What if you’re exercising to lose weight? The scales don’t consider that you might experience a healthy amount of muscle development and that extra muscle has to weigh something! This can be more than a bit disheartening to see you’ve gained weight after working hard at the gym.

Person stepping onto weight scales BMI

The problem with BMI

How about BMI – or Body Mass Index? It’s at least taking into consideration your height... Anything between 18.5 and 25 is an average BMI reading. But, a BMI of over 25 says you’re ‘overweight’ and above 30 indicates obesity. It’s quick and doctors can easily evaluate a patient’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses like cancer and osteoarthritis. But, there are some incidences which can lead to a deceptive BMI result.

BMI doesn’t really measure body fat. You might be a normal weight according to your height, but you can still carry too much body fat and even classify as obese. This means you could be likely to experience some of the same medical risks in people who are more obviously overweight. Dr Brian Fisher, GP in South East London and Strategic Director at Evergreen Life, highlights that "measuring your waist circumference seems to give you a better idea of your risk of heart disease than measuring your BMI.”

Also, BMI doesn’t determine different types of fat in your body. You might have a high BMI, but the fat is stored in your hips. Another person with a similar BMI might have a lot of belly fat – or visceral fat – which causes many dangerous health conditions including certain cancers.

BMI reading weight mass

Measuring your body fat

Body fat percentage can be difficult to precisely measure. You either need specific equipment or a professional – both of which cost money! So, the cheaper and effective alternative is to simply measure your waist circumference. It’s also a good indicator of high visceral fat levels. Bonus!

How to measure your waist

  1. Grab a tape measure!
  2. Wrap the tape measure around your waist at the level of your belly button
  3. Breathe out normally
  4. Check the number on the tape measure

Don’t worry about doing this every day! As with daily weigh-ins, mental stress can hinder our health and fitness progress, as stress can even cause excess fat storage. Do what works for you, but once per month is a good idea. Set a reminder in your phone to measure it at the same time every month so it’s most accurate.

taking waist measurement with a tape measure

So, what is a healthy waist measurement?

Most simply, a man’s health is at risk if his waist is more than 94cm (37 inches), and a woman’s shouldn’t go above 80cm (31.5 inches) to avoid health complications.

But you’ll get a more specific range if you compare your waist against another measurement:

Waist-to-hip

Just divide your waist by your hip measurement (in the same units):

  • For men = above 1 is too high. Aim for below 0.95 to reduce risk of disease.
  • For women = over 0.85 is too high. Below 0.8 puts you at a lower risk of disease.

If you’re worried about your waist measurement, it’s worth thinking about your diet and exercise regime. There are links to Evergreen articles below that you might find helpful.

Keep track

Interested in monitoring your body measurements? You can track changes with the Evergreen Life app. Its personal health and fitness monitor lets you record various results including waist, body fat and blood pressure, so you can understand your fat loss progress and maintain your general wellbeing.

Download the app
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