What’s A Good Waist-To-Hip Ratio?

How do you stack up to the averages?

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One of the most common concerns that people have about their physical body is whether or not they are healthy, “fat,” or “too skinny.”

Assessing your body weight by stepping on a scale only provides part of the picture of your weight/health status, even when your body weight is compared to your height with the body mass index (BMI) metric.

The waist-to-hip ratio has long been used as a predictor of your risk for various lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

But what is a good waist-to-hip ratio for health and the average waist-to-hip ratio? Keep reading to find out!

Let’s jump in!

A person measuring their hip-to-waist ratio.

What Does Waist-to-Hip Ratio Measure?

Your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a metric that quantifies the relative difference between how many inches or centimeters your body is at the slimmest point of your waist compared to the widest part of your hips/butt.

Circumference measurements of different sides of your body are used to calculate body fat percentage using different formulas that have been developed based on sex and the sites used.

For example, you might take circumference measurements of the thigh, abdomen, upper arm, and neck and insert them into a body fat circumference measurement equation to calculate your body fat percentage as an estimate.

The waist-to-hip ratio advances the idea of circumference measurements one step further because you’re not only measuring the circumference of the waist and the circumference of the hips but then also comparing these two measurements.

Research shows that certain waist-to-hip ratios are associated with health conditions such as an increased risk of heart disease, type two diabetes or metabolic syndrome, obesity, or other lifestyle diseases.

A person measuring their hip-to-waist ratio.

Based on studies looking at large populations, researchers were able to determine a good waist-to-hip ratio by sex as well as a poor waist-to-hip ratio for women and men that seems to increase the risk of adverse health outcomes.

For these reasons, there are standards that have been developed for a healthy waist-to-hip ratio for men and a healthy waist-to-hip ratio for women.

A waist-to-hip ratio (circumference at the waist versus circumference at the broadest part of the glutes/hips) greater than 1.0 for men and 0.85 for women is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers.

How Do You Measure Your Waist to Hip Ratio?

  1. Waist Circumference: Stand up straight and breathe out. Use a flexible tape measure to measure the distance around the smallest part of your waist. This is typically just above your belly button. Pull the tape taut but not snug. Record your waist measurement. 
  2. Hip Circumference: Stand in the same position and measure the distance around the widest part of your hips/butt. Record the measurement.
  3. Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio by dividing your waist circumference measurement by your hip circumference measurement.

Why Does My Waist-to-Hip Ratio Matter?

There are some similarities between body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio in the sense that these are both metrics used to assess health risk and health status based on ratios of different measurements of your body.

Your body mass index (BMI) is the ratio of your body weight in kilograms to your height in meters, whereas waist-to-hip ratio measures the ratio of your waist circumference measurement to your hip circumference.

There’s been a lot of criticism about using BMI to stratify your relative risk of disease or premature death.

It seems that the reliance on BMI for risk stratification and potentially even classifying someone as “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight,“ “obese,” or “morbidly obese “ may be starting to phase out.

There have been studies that have found that people who carry more fat around their midsection, particularly the deep visceral fat that surrounds the organs, are at a heightened risk of heart disease, premature death, and type 2 diabetes relative to age-matched and sex-matched peers that carry more of their body fat in their hips and thighs.

When discussing body shapes, this relative fat distribution is sometimes referred to as an apple vs. pear-shaped body type, with the apple-shaped body type carrying a greater risk of diseases due to central abdominal obesity.

A person measuring their body fat.

Is Waist-to-Hip Ratio Better than BMI for Measuring Body Fat Percentage?

Body mass index (BMI) is often used in medical settings to stratify your health risks, much in the way that there are different categories of body fat percentage.

Even though BMI is often used in the same way that body fat percentage should be used in terms of having a healthy body fat or healthy body composition versus having obesity or being overweight, there are important differences between BMI and body fat percentage.

Rather than looking at how much of your weight is fat tissue relative to your total body weight, BMI is just a measure of total body weight relative to your height.

This means that BMI does not take into account the specific composition or tissue that comprises your weight.

Body fat, muscle, bone, organs, etc., are all combined and compared to height.

BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared: BMI = weight (kg) / [height (m)]2

A person measuring their body fat.

For example, if you weigh 70 kg and are 165 cm tall, 70 / (1.65)2 = 25.7 kg/m2.

With pounds and inches, the formula for calculating BMI is weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703.

So, if you weigh 160 pounds and are 65 inches tall, [160 / (65)2] x 703 = 26.6 kg/m2.

You can calculate your BMI here.1National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute . (2019). Calculate your BMI – standard BMI calculator. Nih.gov; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

‌According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI is categorized as follows:2CDC. (2022, June 3). About Adult BMI . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html

BMIWeight Status
Below 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Healthy Weight
25.0 – 29.9Overweight
30.0 and AboveObesity

Some organizations add an additional classification of Morbid Obesity for a BMI of 35 or above.

BMI is often used in place of body fat percentage to provide the same risk stratification. It is much easier to measure someone’s height and weight quickly at a medical appointment rather than undergo more complicated body fat percentage testing.

This is given that most body fat percentage assessments are costly and inconvenient and/or highly inaccurate if not costly.

However, two different individuals with very different body compositions can have the same BMI yet very different body fat percentages. 

A notebook that says BMI on it.

Studies have found that BMI often misclassifies individuals as being overweight or obese based on their BMI, yet they do not have risk factors when you look at body fat percentage and overall health.3Tomiyama, A. J., Hunger, J. M., Nguyen-Cuu, J., & Wells, C. (2016). Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005–2012. International Journal of Obesity40(5), 883–886. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2016.17

Fortunately, it seems that the medical community is starting to phase out the reliance on BMI for looking at the health risks associated with obesity since BMI does not even look at the percentage of body fat vs. muscle or lean body mass that you have. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, accuracy for predicting the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death is greater with your waist-to-hip ratio vs BMI.4Franek, E., Pais, P., Basile, J. N., Raha, S., Ahmad, N., Kan, H., & Konig, M. (2021). 376-P: REWIND Data on Obesity and Cardiovascular (CV) Health: Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR) Independently Predicted CV Outcomes. Diabetes70(Supplement 1). https://doi.org/10.2337/db21-376-P

This is substantiated by other research. For example, a large study with over 15,000 adults found that a high WHR was associated with an increased risk of premature death, even in individuals with a moderate BMI.

Another study found that a high WHR is more accurate in predicting complications in trauma patients than using BMI. 

Therefore, even if your BMI is within a normal range, your risk of disease may be increased based on your body fat distribution.

In addition to predicting premature death and cardiovascular disease, having a high waist-to-hip ratio is associated with a higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and type 2 diabetes.5Fauziana, R., Jeyagurunathan, A., Abdin, E., Vaingankar, J., Sagayadevan, V., Shafie, S., Sambasivam, R., Chong, S. A., & Subramaniam, M. (2016). Body mass index, waist-hip ratio and risk of chronic medical condition in the elderly population: results from the Well-being of the Singapore Elderly (WiSE) Study. BMC Geriatrics16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-016-0297-z

Studies have also found that for people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, decreasing waist to hip ratio by five percent significantly reduces the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

A person measuring their hip-to-waist ratio.

What Is a Good Waist-to-Hip Ratio for Women vs Men?

The table below displays your relative risk of diseases according to your waist-to-hip ratio based on sex. These average waist-to-hip ratio norms are based on the World Health Organization (WHO) standards:6Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio. (n.d.). https://iris.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665/44583/9789241501491_eng.pdf

Waist-to-Hip Test MeaningWomenMen
Low Risk (Good Waist to Hip Ratio)No more than 0.80 No more than 0.95 
Moderate Health Risk0.81-0.850.96-1.0
High Health Risk0.86 or higher1.0 or higher
A person measuring their hip-to-waist ratio.

Should I Measure My Waist-to-Hip Ratio?

A common saying is, “You can’t change what you don’t measure.”

There is certainly something to be said for taking body measurements in order to ensure that you are indeed making progress in the gym.

After all, dieting and exercising for weight loss without taking measurements is like deciding you want to drive from New York City to Los Angeles without checking a map or GPS every so often to make sure that you are following a route that will get you toward your destination.

Because most of the techniques to measure body fat percentage involve algorithms or some degree of estimation, there is an inherent measurement error of +/- 3%, and this number can be even further off if poor technique is used.

To truly gauge your health risk based on your waist-to-hip ratio, the circumference measurements need to be taken at the exact sites and using the right level of tension on the tape.

The key to getting more accurate WHR measurements is to follow the directions and protocol for measuring waist circumference and hip circumference to a T and stay consistent in measuring your body fat. 

However, even if the body fat measurements you take for your waist-to-hip calculations are somewhat inaccurate, as long as you’re measuring the exact same spots on your body every time you take your waist and hip measurements, you can see how your body measurements change.

If you want to learn more about how to measure body fat percentage and how to interpret body fat percentage values, check out our guide here.

A person on a scale.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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