Weight and waist measurements
What is a healthy weight?
What is overweight?
What are the health consequences of being overweight?
Why is waist measurement important?
At what waist measurement does it become a health risk?
How does my height affect the waist measurement guidelines?
What evidence supports the waist measurements?
I consider myself to be healthy and active, yet my waist measurement is in the risk range. Is this a problem?
What is body mass index (BMI)?
Why doesn’t this campaign use the BMI?
What is a healthy weight?Is there an ideal weight we should all try to achieve? The answer is NO! There’s no ideal weight that suits everybody. Each person is different and their healthy weight will be determined by different factors. There are two methods that can be used to check if you are in the healthy weight range - the Body Mass Index (BMI) and measurement of your waist circumference.
What is overweight?Overweight is a condition of excess weight that normally results from a sustained energy imbalance. Energy imbalance occurs when dietary energy intake is more then energy expenditure over a period of time i.e. you're consuming more energy then you are burning off. A combination of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference is recommended for the clinical measurement of overweight and obesity.
What are the health consequences of being overweight?The health problems and consequences of being overweight and obese are many and varied, including musculo-skeletal problems, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, sleep apnoea, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Many of these are often preventable though a healthy and active lifestyle. Having excess fat that coats your organs is a risk to your health. . This is called visceral or intra-abdominal fat. It is not yet clear on what the exact cause is which links intra-abdominal fat with chronic disease, but what is clear is that even a small deposit of this fat increases the risk of serious health problems.
Why is waist measurement important?
A waist measurement of greater than 94cm for men or 80cm for women is an indicator of internal fat deposits, which can coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas, and increase the risk of chronic disease. Waist circumference should only be used for adults to check the risk of developing a chronic disease. Measurements that indicate increased risks for children and teenagers have not been developed.
At what waist measurement does it become a health risk?For most people a waist measurement of greater than 94cm for men or 80cm for women is an indicator of internal fat deposits, which can coat the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas, and increase the risk of chronic disease.
Waist measurements should only be used for adults to check their risk of developing a chronic disease. Measurements that indicate increased risks for children and young people have not yet been developed.
The waist measurements above are recommended for Caucasian men and Caucasian and Asian women. Recommended waist measurements are yet to be determined for all ethnic groups. It is believed that they may be lower for Asian men than for Caucasian men and are likely to be higher for Pacific Islanders and African Americans (men and women). The limited data currently available indicates that the risk factors in Aboriginal populations appear to be similar to those in Asian populations; and the risk factors in Torres Strait Islander populations appear to be similar to those found in Pacific Islander populations.
Measuring your waistTo find out your level of risk, it is important to measure your waist circumference accurately.
- The tape measure should be placed directly on your skin, or on no more than one layer of light clothing.
- The correct place to measure your waist is horizontally halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. This is roughly in line with your belly button.
- Breathe out normally and take the measure.
- Make sure the tape is snug, without squeezing the skin.
How does my height affect the waist measurement guidelines?For most people. no matter how tall you are, if your waist measurement is more than 80cm for women and 94cm for men you are at an increased risk of some lifestyle related chronic diseases e.g Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Current clinical evidence indicates waist measurement is an accepted indicator of risk.
What evidence supports the waist measurements?The recommended waist measurements used in the Measure Up campaign are based on findings by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
The WHO Consultation on Obesity reported its findings in Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic, Technical Report 894, 2000.
The current Australian Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults were issued by the NHMRC in 2003. The NHMRC is Australia's peak body for health research and advice, and the Guidelines were developed by an expert panel after a comprehensive assessment of the current scientific evidence.
I consider myself to be healthy and active, yet my waist measurement is in the risk range. Is this a problem?It is not possible to give individual tailored clinical advice as every individual situation is different. However based on current clinical evidence (see above), waist circumference measurement is an accepted indicator of risk. The measures for increased risk of 80cm and above for women and 94cm and above for men have been taken from these Guidelines.
While waist circumference is a simple and obvious indicator of potential risk, health risk is not solely linked to waist circumference. Smoking, physical inactivity, blood pressure and blood cholesterol, lack of sleep and many other factors all play an important role. Some individuals will naturally carry small deposits of subcutaneous fat around their abdomen even though they follow an appropriate lifestyle.
If you exercise regularly and eat well, don’t smoke or drink excessively and generally live a healthy life then a slightly elevated waist circumference should not cause you to worry. It is important to note that all efforts to increase physical activity and improve diet will help reduce risk and have an individual health benefit. We encourage you to continue your efforts.
What is body mass index (BMI)?BMI is an acceptable approximation of total body fat at the population level and can be used to estimate the risk of diseases in most people.
The use of BMI is a convenient way for you (an adult) to assess whether your weight is in the healthy range. Your BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. For example, a woman 1.67m in height and weighing 65kg would have a BMI of 23.3 which falls within the healthy weight range. Overweight is measured as 25 or more with obesity determined as 30 or more.
There are exceptions to this rule, which means a BMI figure may not be accurate.
BMI calculations can overestimate the amount of body fat for:
- Body builders or weight lifters
- Some high performance athletes or highly active defence personnel
- Pregnant women.
BMI calculations can underestimate the amount of body fat for:
- The elderly
- People with a physical disability who are unable to walk and may have muscle wasting.
BMI is also not an accurate indicator for people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or people with extreme obesity.
Therefore the BMI is not the best measure of fatness or health risk. Increasingly experts believe that the type of fat and where it is on your body may be more important than BMI – and that your waist circumference is really the figure that you should pay attention to. Even if your BMI is normal, if you have a waist measurement above 94cm for men and 80cm for women you may be at risk of serious chronic disease.
|Classification of Body Mass Index|
|Classification||BMI||Risk of co-morbidities|
|Underweight||<18.50||Low (but possibly increased risk of other clinical problems)|
|Normal range (Healthy Weight)||18.50 - 24.99||Average|
|Pre-obese||25.00 - 29.99||Increased|
|Obese class 1||30.00 - 34.99||Moderate|
|Obese class 2||35.00 - 39.99||Severe|
|Obese class 3||>40.00||Very severe|
|Reproduced from: Obesity: Preventing and Managing the Global Epidemic, 2000, WHO, Geneva.|
It is important to remember, however, that even though your BMI can tell you if you are overweight, your waist measurement is a better guide to your risk of chronic disease. Even if your BMI is normal, fat around the waist can put you at risk.