Is your weight problematic? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. Sure, there are scales and charts and different scientific methods of calculating “overweight and overall fatness,” but determining your risk for heart disease may be more closely linked to where you carry your fat — not necessarily how much extra fat you’re carrying.
New research shows that adding several inches to the waist — even if body weight still falls within a normal range — markedly increases the risk of unhealthy plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart and the rest of the body. The research, conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, appears in the August 21, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC). According to the study, the relationship of the waist measurement to the hip measurement (known as waist-to-hip ratio) was much more closely tied to early, hidden signs of heart disease than other common measures of obesity, such as body mass index (BMI) and height/weight charts. In other words, get rid of that potbelly!
How to measure waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)
To calculate your WHR, measure your waist circumference with a flexible tape measure. (If you have a visible waist, measure around the narrowest part of your abdomen. Otherwise, take the measure at the level of your navel.) Record that number as your waist measurement. Then, measure around your hips — the widest part of your lower body, at or below the level of your pelvis. Record that number as your hip measurement. Now, take your waist measurement and divide by your hip measurement. That is your WHR. (For example, if your waist circumference is 30", and your hip measurement is 38": 30 / 38 = 0.79.) Higher WHRs indicate a greater proportion of weight carried as abdominal fat. If your measurements fall into the “at risk” category, start eating well and exercising to bring them down asap.
Ideal waist-to-hip ratio:
For men, a ratio of .90 or less is considered to be safe.
For women, a ratio of .80 or less is considered to be safe.
For both men and women, a waist-to-hip ratio of 1.0 or higher is considered "at risk" or in the danger zone for undesirable health consequences such as heart disease.
The scoop on some standard height-weight charts
According to height-weight charts, people are considered overweight if they carry more weight than what is usually expected for someone their height. For example, a woman of 5'8" who weighs 155 pounds is at a healthy weight. However, 155 pounds puts a woman of 5'4" in the category of moderately overweight, and a woman of 5'0" in the category of severely overweight. Although height-weight charts are useful, these charts are not practical for overly muscular people (since muscle weighs more than fat, an overly muscular person will be inaccurately categorized as “overweight”). Also, these charts do not measure fat distribution, therefore, you should also measure waist-to-hip ratio for a comprehensive evaluation.
Body mass index (BMI)
Body mass index (BMI) was created in order to standardize the height-weight relationship to a simple numerical scale. By using this chart instead of the height-weight chart, doctors use one number to determine whether you fall into a healthy weight range.
The formula for calculating your body mass index is: BMI = (Weight in pounds / (Height in inches) x (Height in inches ) ) x 703. (Or simply use a BMI chart — they’re readily available).
Body Mass Index categories
Below 18.5 Underweight
30.0 and Above Obese
As with the height-weight measure, BMI is not perfect, but it’s a quick, inexpensive indicator that can be easily calculated during any physical examination. BMI charts do not work for overly muscular people (i.e., a bodybuilder), because as mentioned above, muscle weighs more than fat and will falsely categorize muscular people as overweight … and BMI charts do not take into consideration where your fat is distributed. Once again, it would be smart to track BMI and also measure your waist-to-hip ratio.
Body fat percentage
Our bodies are made up of lean mass (muscle, bones and connective tissue) … and body fat. A measurement of body fat percentage shows how much overall body fat you have.
These measurements are specifically useful for people who weigh a lot due to muscle mass. This reading validates the pounds are coming from lean body mass — NOT fat. It’s also a useful tool for athletes trying to gain muscle and lose fat … and a fun tracking tool for people losing weight (to ensure you’re losing FAT as opposed to lean body mass).
If you’d like to investigate your “overall body fat percentage,” you can get tested at a local gym or find a body composition lab that provides underwater weighing (the gold standard). You can also invest in a home scale that calculates body fat percentage. A few quality brands include:
1. Health O Meter BFM 687
2. Omron Hbf 500
3. Homedics Tri-Fitness Health Station SC-560
4. Tanita Innerscan BC
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Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.”
For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com.