BMI and Waist-hip
The Magic Number for Health and
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We've all heard the
saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It explains why someone might
fall in love and marry a person someone else would never even notice. And yet,
there are markers of physical attractiveness that are said to be universal, not
only across cultures, but throughout time. Turns out, one in particular is also
a pretty accurate indicator of the shape you're in. Read on to see what your
waist and hips have to do with the health of your heart.
The World Health Organization
(WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) depend on the body mass index
(BMI) to define obesity and measure people's health risks, especially from
heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It's easy to calculate BMI and convenient
to use, as it's simply a ratio of a person's height and weight. But since BMI
doesn't account for the difference between fat and fat-free mass, like muscle,
a pro linebacker could have the same BMI as someone huge and completely out of
shape. The linebacker's weight might be mostly muscle whereas the obese
person's weight would be mostly fat. In the eyes of the World Health
Organization, though, the healthy linebacker would also be called "obese." And
that bothers researchers who would like more accurate measurements of health
Another problem with
BMI is that it doesn't take into consideration where your fat is stored on your
body. As Project: YOU creator Kathy Smith noted in a recent article on
burning fat, abdominal fat is far worse than fat anywhere else on your body. It
explains why people with identical BMI numberspeople who are the same
height and weightmay not have the same health risks. People with
apple-shaped bodies, who store fat around their waist, are more at risk than
pear-shaped people, who store fat in their hips and booty.
In 2003, an Australian study
concluded that the waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a better predictor of death from
cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease than BMI. Researchers noted
that WHR has a more universal application and is more appropriate for
ethnically diverse populations. A couple of years later, a Canadian study
confirmed these findings and asserted that WHR is three times more accurate
than BMI at predicting heart attack risk. And this year, a London study found
that WHR was a more accurate measurement of the mortality rate in older people
(over 75 years old). An older person may have a "healthy" BMI number, maybe
even the same BMI as they've always had, but because people lose bone and
muscle mass as they age, and BMI doesn't distinguish fat from bone or muscle
(only height and weight matter), the weight an older person loses in muscle and
bone may be replaced with fat. That's why WHR is a much better indicator of an
older person's health risk, as the distribution of their fat is more crucial
than their height-weight ratio.
The first to
theorize about the significance of the waist-hip ratio was the evolutionary
psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh. He was interested in studying the importance
of female attractiveness to the propagation of the species. That is, take away
the moonlight, the mascara, and the little black dress, and what's left to
explain why men want to hook up with women and start families? Evidently,
according to Dr. Singh, men are biologically hard-wired to look for markers of
attractiveness that coincide with health and fertility, and one such marker is
the relation between a woman's waist and hips. A ratio of around 0.7 indicates
good levels of estrogen and lower incidences of heart disease and ovarian
cancera healthy breeder, in other words. Women size up men similarly: the
magical waist-hip ratio number is around 0.9 for men, indicating fertility and
good health and less prostate and testicular cancer. The evidence bears it out.
Think of our cultural icons of feminine beauty and sex appeal: Marilyn Monroe,
Sophia Loren, Salma Hayekeven the Venus de Milo. They all have waist-hip
ratios of around 0.7. Different heights, weights, and sizes, but "beautiful" in
the same way.
What is Your
To figure out your WHR, all you
need is a measuring tape.
- Measure your
waist. Women should measure their waist at the narrowest place between
the bottom of their ribs and their hip bones. Men, measure your waist at your
navel. And both of you, don't pull the tape tight or suck in your stomach. The
tape should not squeeze your skin at all.
hips. Women, measure around the widest part of your booty, men, at the
tip of your hip bones.
waist-hip ratio. Divide your waist measurement by your hip
WHR is considered
healthy if it's under 0.85.
|For men, WHR
healthy if it's under 0.90.
Because it's hard to
measure people's waist and hips consistently, the waist-hip ratio has not been
adopted by the World Health Organization. They still prefer the easy
height-weight ratio of the body mass index, so information pertaining to health
risks and obesity continues to be determined by BMI data. But now that you know
your own WHR, and the implications of a high number (increased risk of heart
disease, diabetes, and cancer), you can do something to change your odds.
Ramp up your cardio, as that
will reduce your overall body fat, and adjust your diet so you're eating in
line with the guidelines we propound in Michi's Ladder and our diet guides.
Don't slack on your ab work either. Good targeted ab routines include Ab Jam
(Turbo Jam®), Slim & 6-Pack (Slim in 6®), Ab
Ripper 100 and 200 (Power 90®), Ab Ripper X
(P90X®), and Kathy Smith's abs and core workouts (Project: YOU).
Reduce stress any way you can, as stress makes you crave unhealthy, fattening
foods (read up on the kinds of foods you should eat to combat stress and weight
gain). Once you've got your WHR where it should be, you'll look better,
feel better, be healthier, and live longerand that is beautiful.
Schneider, H., et al. "Obesity and
risk of myocardial infarction: the INTERHEART study." The Lancet.
2006; (367, 9516): 1052-1052.
Singh, D. "Adaptive significance of female
physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio." Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology. 1993; 65: 293-307.
A., Dhaliwal, Satvinder S., and Bennett, Stanley A. "Waist-hip ratio is the
dominant risk factor predicting cardiovascular death in Australia."
The Medical Journal of Australia. 2003; 179 (11/12): 580.