How to Measure Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Woman measuring hips with tape measure
Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

WHR is a quick and easy measurement that assesses fat distribution, which can help determine a person’s overall risk for developing certain health conditions.

The WHR measurement involves using a tape measure to check the size of your waist and hips. WHR is found by dividing circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips. Calculating WHR is easy, quick and doesn't cost anything if you already have a tape measure!

Why Does Your Waist-To-Hip Ratio Matter?

You may have heard of body mass index (BMI), which calculates the ratio of your weight to your height. Many researchers find little value in BMI as a measure of health, because it doesn't help determine how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks.

Not all excess weight is the same when it comes to health risks. The WHR is handy because it specifically looks at the amount of fat on your waist, hips and buttocks. Studies have shown that excess weight around the mid-section and waist (visceral fat) is more strongly linked to chronic disease compared to excess weight around the hips or buttocks.

Conditions that are linked to excess mid-section, or visceral, fat include high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and sleep apnea.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

How to Calculate Waist-to-Hip Ratio

A health care professional may calculate WHR at an appointment, but you can also measure it yourself at home. You will need a calculator and a flexible tape measure that can wrap around your body.

Here's how to measure WHR:

  1. Take a waist circumference measurement: Wrap the tape measure around the narrowest part of your stomach, near or just above your belly button. The tape measure should rest gently on your skin, and not be pulled tightly. Once the tape measure is positioned correctly, breathe in gently, and then take the measurement on the exhale. Note the measurement in inches.
  2. Take a hip measurement: Stand with your feet directly beneath your hips and wrap the tape around the widest part of your hips and buttocks. Note the measurement in inches.
  3. Calculate your WHR: Divide your waist size by your hip size to get your WHR.

To measure your WHR correctly, you should remove any bulky clothing that can add padding around your abdomen. The WHO says that the accuracy of WHR measurements depends on the tightness of the measuring tape. It should be snug around the body, but not pulled so tight that it is constricting.

The World Health Organization has established guidelines when assessing WHR and says that a healthy WHR cut-off level is 0.9 or less in men and 0.85 or less for women.

Waist to Hip Ratio Chart

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends keeping your waist to hip ratio below 1 to reduce your risk. The risk is different depending on whether you are male or female and ranges from low to high.

Waist to Hip Ratio Risk Level Chart
Health Risk Level  Female   Male
 Low 0.8 or less  0.95 or less
 Moderate 0.81-0.85  0.96-1.0
 High 0.86 and up  1.0 and up

Waist-to-Hip Ratio Examples

Let's walk through an example together so you can see how WHR works.

Meet Anne. Using a flexible tape measure, Anne measures her waist at the most narrow part near her navel. The waist measurement is 30 inches.

Next, Anne measures her hips at the widest part and records 38 inches. She will now use her calculator to divide her waist measurement by her hip measurement to determine her WHR.

30 (waist measurement) / 38 (hip measurement) = 0.78

Anne's WHR is 0.78. Anne falls in the normal range because her WHR is less than 0.85, which is the WHO cutoff for a healthy WHR for woman.

Here is another example with a man named Mark. His waist measurement is 43 inches and his hip measurement is 42 inches.

43 (waist measurement) / 42 (hip measurement) = 1.02

When comparing Mark's WHR of 1.02 to the WHO cut-off for men of 0.9, it is clear that Mark has a high WHR, which may put him at increased risk for several chronic diseases.

To protect his health, Mark can work with a doctor and a dietitian to learn more about other health parameters, such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels, eating habits, exercise and sleep patterns, which all affect health.

WHR is just one measure of health—not the only aspect that matters. One downfall of the WHR is that is was originally calculated in people of European origin, so it may not account for differences in body composition in other ethnic and cultural groups globally.

Studies of populations throughout the world suggest it's better to use cut‐off points that are specific to ethnic groups, rather than using the same standard numbers for everyone.

Using WHR to Improve Your Health

While WHR is just one measure of an individual's health, there are a few ways to use the metric for the benefit of your overall wellness.

Check for Underlying Conditions

Before you embark on lifestyle changes, check with a doctor to assess your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and check for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Those can also impact the changes that need to be made to improve overall health.

Change Your Diet

If your usual eating habits include meals filled with ultra-processed and fast foods that are high in calories, fat, salt and sugar, there's likely room for improvement.

Start by adding more vegetables and fruit to daily meals and snacks. One study specifically found that a diet high in fruit and low in white bread, processed meat, margarine, and soft drinks may help prevent abdominal fat accumulation.

According to the USDA, a balanced plate is comprised of 50% vegetables and fruit, 25% grains and 25% protein sources, such as fish, legumes, poultry or eggs.

Increase Your Physical Activity

The CDC recommends that adults aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, split up over at least five days. Choose a mix of cardiovascular activity (such as walking, cycling and swimming), and strength training (such as lifting weights).

A Word From Verywell

Remember, WHR is just one measure of disease risk, but it's certainly not the only one. Use it as one tool in your toolbox, and check with a doctor or dietitian for a more fulsome health assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a healthy waist-to-hip ratio?

    Per the World Health Organization, a healthy WHR is 0.9 or less for men, and 0.85 or less for women.

  • How do you measure your waist and hips?

    Wrap a tape measure around the narrowest part of your waist, near or above your belly button. Note the measurement in inches. Next, stand with your feet directly beneath your hips and wrap the tape around the widest part of your hips and buttocks. Note the measurement in inches.

  • How can you improve your waist-to-hip ratio?

    Often, you can improve your WHR by making lifestyle changes, such as improving your eating habits and being more physically active.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.