Waist-to-hip ratio, also known as waist-hip ratio, is the circumference of the waist divided by the circumference of the hips. What does a person's waist-to-hip ratio say about their health?

The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a quick measure of fat distribution that may help indicate a person's overall health. People who carry more weight around their middle than their hips may be at a higher risk of developing certain health conditions.

This article explains how to calculate WHR and includes a chart to help people understand their results. It also looks at how WHR ratio affects health, how a person can improve their ratio, and what else they should consider.

measuring waist above belly buttonShare on Pinterest
Waist circumference should be measured just above the belly button.

To find out their WHR, a person needs to measure both the circumference of their waist and their hips. Circumference means the distance around something.

To measure the circumference of their waist, a person should stand up straight and breathe out, then measure their waist just above the belly button with a tape measure. This should be where the waist is smallest.

Be careful not to pull the tape measure too tight, and remember to record the waist measurement before moving on to the hips.

To measure the circumference of their hips, stand up straight and wrap a tape measure around the widest part of the hips. Take the measurement where the ends of the tape measure overlap, again do not pull it too tight.

To calculate the WHR, divide the first measurement (waist circumference) by the second measurement (hip circumference). Measurements can be recorded in either centimeters (cm) or inches (in) without affecting the ratio.

For example, if a person's waist circumference is 80 cm (31.5 in) and their hip circumference is 90 cm (35.5 in) then their WHR ratio is:

80 ÷ 90 = 0.89 cm (31.5 ÷ 35.5 = 0.89 in)

measuring the hipsShare on Pinterest
The hips should be measured at the widest part of the hips.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), having a WHR of over 1.0 may increase the risk of developing conditions that relate to being overweight, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

This may be the case even if other measures of being overweight, such as body mass index (BMI) are in normal range.

The WHO advise that a healthy WHR is:

  • 0.85 or less for women
  • 0.9 or less for men

The following chart shows how the WHO classify the risk of being affected by weight related health conditions according to WHR:

Health riskMenWomen
Low0.95 or lower0.80 or lower
Moderate0.96-1.00.81-0.85
High1.0 or higher0.86 or higher

Those with a high WHR carry weight around their middle, so their body shape may be described as an "apple."

Research shows people who are "apple-shaped" are at a greater risk of certain health conditions than those who are "pear-shaped" (when the hips are wider than the upper body).

These health conditions include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: One study found that abdominal obesity increased the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Another study found the WHR predicted cardiovascular disease more effectively than BMI or waist circumference. A third study found that WHR is a better indicator of risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease than waist circumference alone.
  • Type 2 diabetes: A 2016 study found that an increased waist circumference was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Fertility: A 2002 study found that women with a WHR of over 0.80 have a lower pregnancy rate than those with a lower WHR, regardless of their BMI.

As well as using WHR to indicate how likely someone is to develop certain health conditions; it may also be used to indicate obesity. According to WHO:

  • a WHR of over 0.85 indicates obesity in women
  • a WHR of over 0.90 indicates obesity in men

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Reducing portion size and exercising regularly are recommended to improve waist-to-hip ratio.

If a person has a high WHR and is carrying excess weight around their waist, they may be concerned about the related health risks. To reduce these risks, it is a good idea to try to lose weight.

The best way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than are burned, usually by eating less and exercising more. Eating a healthful diet, reducing portion size, and exercising several times a week is a good place to start.

A 2011 study found that a diet high in fruit and dairy and low in white bread, processed meat, margarine, and soft drinks may help reduce abdominal fat. A doctor or nutritionist can provide further advice on how to lose weight.

While a person's WHR is a useful measure for some health conditions, it is important to remember that it is not foolproof.

People may take inaccurate measurements or make a mistake when doing the calculation. In addition, if someone has a high BMI or is less than 5 feet tall, their WHR may be less meaningful.

It is important to note that a WHR is not designed to measure the health of children and should only be used for adults.

Measuring a person's WHR is a quick way to get an indication of:

  • overall health
  • obesity levels
  • risk of weight-related health conditions

However, as a WHR can be measured inaccurately, it should not be relied on as a sole measure of obesity or health risk.

Talking to the doctor about weight and any associated health risks is always the best way to get a more complete picture.