What Your Waist Size Says About Your Health Risks

Your waist circumference is an important number to know, especially if you're living with a chronic health issue such as heart disease or have a , such as family history.

In fact, research shows waist circumference may be as important as (BMI)—the ratio of weight to height that can indicate —for predicting disease risk and overall health status. This is because BMI does not account for how fat is distributed in the body.

In contrast, a large waist circumference indicates an accumulation of fat in the intra-abdominal region—and fat in this area can impact internal organs and is more metabolically active than fat in other areas of the body.

Getting an accurate waist measurement is fairly simple:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exceeding the following waist circumference can increase risk of developing obesity-related conditions:

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises waist circumference be evaluated in people with a BMI of 25 or higher. However, at least one study has revealed that the risk for developing diabetes was stronger for people who had a lower BMI but had a high waist circumference.

A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, between 18.5 to 24.9 is optimal, between 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and over 30 is technically considered obese.

Body mass index can be calculated by comparing height to weight.

To find your BMI, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches; multiply the result by 703 to convert from lbs/inches2 to kg/m2.

When used alone, a BMI measurement is not especially accurate at predicting health and heart disease risk. Used in conjunction with waist circumference, it provides a clearer picture.

There are several serious risks associated with a waist circumference larger than 35 inches in people assigned female at birth or 40 inches in those assigned male at birth, including:

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of medical conditions that occur together and increase one's risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Abdominal or central obesity (having a large waist circumference) along with insulin resistance are considered the two most important risk factors.

A larger waist circumference is often caused by intra-abdominal visceral fat. Visceral fat is fat that develops between and around internal organs. This type of fat differs from "regular" fat that sits just beneath the skin and can be pinched. This type of fat is deep within the abdomen and is considered to have very high inflammatory activity.

Fat cells were once thought to function solely as energy storage. However, it is now known they also secrete hormones.


They play a part in response to infection, inflammation, and injury, among other things. They also secrete both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory substances. Inflammation may be a major factor in the onset of diabetes. Fat cells secrete adiponectin, a protein hormone and lowers the risk of atherosclerosis and diabetes. However, less adiponectin is produced as fat cells increase.

There are several effective ways to reduce your waist circumference in a healthy manner.

Work with a primary care provider to determine the best method for you to reduce your waist circumference if you're over the recommended guidelines.

There are many measures of overall health and wellness. Waist circumference happens to be just one. It is not the be-all, end-all metric, but it can be a helpful clue in determining your long-term health. If you are concerned about your waist measurement, consult with a healthcare provider about safe ways to lose weight and reduce your risk of chronic disease.