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What is a Waistline?

By Daniel Lindley
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The human waistline is defined as the smallest part of the abdomen between the rib cage and the hips. The waist of the human body is important not just as a physical measurement of one's shape but as an indicator of increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and other diseases. Body fat around the waist has been shown to be much worse for health than fat in other parts of the body, so proper measurement of the body's waistline is one cheap but effective way to gauge potential risks for heart and other health problems.

Research has shown that an apple-shaped body, with fat concentrated around the middle, can be far more dangerous than a pear-shaped body, with fat prevalent at the bottom. Basic guidelines have been established for maximum healthy waistline sizes. Those with waistlines over the recommended limits should consider slimming down by improving diet, increasing physical activity, and decreasing emotional stress.

The waistline can be easily measured with a flexible tape measure, but measurement has to be done properly. Any clothing must be removed from the waist. The tape should be wrapped around the body at the approximate level of the navel.

To ensure proper measurement, the person doing the measuring should feel along the sides of the waist for the top edge of the hipbones. This should be done by running the sides of the hands and index fingers up along the sides of the hipbones to find the upper hip bones, known in medical terms as the iliac crests. The bottom of the measuring tape should run along the top of the hipbones as it circles the waist. Some people make the mistake of measuring from the front of the hipbones, which are lower and give an improper measurement. The measurement should be made with the tape parallel to the floor, untangled, and the subject breathing normally.

Generally, women should have a waistline of 35 inches (88 cm) or less, while men should strive for a waistline of 40 inches (102 cm) or less. An alternative rule of thumb suggests that the waistline should measure half or less of height. A simple waistline measurement has been shown to be a better predictor of heart problems than another popular measurement, the body mass index, which divides weight by height.

Big waistlines can spell big medical risks. One long-term study of female nurses found that those with waist sizes over 35 inches (88 cm) ran twice the risk of dying from stroke as those with waists under 27 inches (69 cm). Other potential problems associated with excessive waist size include heart attack, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes.

Those with apple-shaped bodies need not despair. It is possible to reduce waist size through a combination of increased exercise, better eating habits, and reduced stress. To avoid heart and other health problems, attention should also be paid to avoiding risky forms of behavior like cigarette smoking.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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