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BMI and Waist-hip Ratio

The Magic Number for Health and Beauty

From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to Win!

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 Current Standard: BMI

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 risks.

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 numbers—people who are the same height and weight—may 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.

The Research

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.

Waist-hip 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 cancer—a 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 Hayek—even 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 Waist-hip Ratio?

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.

  • Measure your hips. Women, measure around the widest part of your booty, men, at the tip of your hip bones.

  • Calculate your waist-hip ratio. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

For women, WHR is considered
healthy if it's under 0.85.
For men, WHR is considered
healthy if it's under 0.90.

What Now?

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 longer—and 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.
Welborn, Timothy 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.

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I am a full time Beachbody Coach. I motivate and guide close to 2,500 Club members and head a team of 11 Beachbody Coaches who are all committed to helping you reach your goals. Before joining BeachBody, I was a certified personal trainer for more than a dozen years and have been a running coach for over 20 years. Continued...


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