While many of us have heard that the body mass index (BMI) is an important measure of health, the waist-to-hip ratio is much more indicative of important health implications.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
The BMI is a measure based on a simple mathematical formula using height and weight, with an ideal range of 18.5 – 24.9. However, this is only a measure of relative weight; it does not take into account fat mass and muscle mass, nor weight distribution.
For instance, if you have a lot of muscle mass and little body fat, it’s very easy to exceed the average range, indicating you are “overweight” or “obese” even though you’re not. In fact, many of my athletes have a BMI of 27 or 28, and they are very fit.
On the flip side, I have some patients who appear thin, but are actually unhealthy. Yet, their BMI is a number in the high teens, indicating they are in the “ideal” range.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR)
The waist-to-hip ratio (or WHR) is a more accurate indicator of weight distribution, measuring the circumference of the waist to that of the hips. It is also a more accurate predictor of serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type II diabetes.
Ideally, for a woman, the number should be .7 - .8, and for males, it should be .8 - .9. To calculate the ratio accurately, simply measure around your belly button and the widest point of your hips, and divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If your waist size exceeds the hips beyond the normal WHR range (“apple shaped”), this is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease: Heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and even early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In general, the “apple shape” is associated with more inflammation (Paddock, 2013).
This simple measure can be done easily in your own home, and can help bring to light red flags for certain health conditions and inflammation. Eating a mostly plant-based diet, managing stress, obtaining adequate sleep, and exercising are all excellent and controllable factors to help you achieve an ideal waist-to-hip ratio and thriving health!