How to Measure Waist Circumference for Health

Cropped shot of a young woman measuring her waist in the bathroom

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Waist circumference is a measurement taken around the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus (belly button). Health experts use waist circumference to screen patients for possible weight-related health problems. But you can also learn how to measure the waist circumference at home.


Measuring the size of your waist can help you to understand your risk for certain health conditions that are related to your weight. Waist circumference alone cannot indicate that you have a medical condition or that you'll develop one in the future, but it can help you and your healthcare provider to determine where fat is located on your body and if that fat may cause health problems for you in the future.

According to the National Institutes of Health, if more fat is located around your waist rather than around your hips, you are at higher risk for conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You can also use your waist measurement to calculate your waist-hip ratio (WHR). Waist/hip ratio provides another screening tool for weight-related disease risk.

Taking Measurements

To measure waist circumference correctly, you should use a flexible tape measure that is not elastic (i.e., the tape measure should not stretch when you are taking your belly measurement). You should also remove any bulky clothing that can add padding around the abdomen.

Stand up to get an accurate waist measurement. Then, wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your stomach, across your belly button. The tape measure should rest gently on your skin. Once the tape measure is positioned correctly, breathe in gently and then take the measurement on the exhale.

Take the measurement two or three times to make sure you get a consistent result. Holding the tape too tight so that it digs into your flesh or holding it too loosely so that it droops will cause you to get an incorrect result.

Waist Circumference

So how does your waist circumference measure up? Use this chart to see if your risk for disease is higher than normal. If your waist measurement is greater than the numbers indicated, your risk for weight-related health problems is higher than normal.

Higher Risk Waist Circumference Measurements
Sex Waist Measurement
Men > 40 inches (102 centimeters)
Women > 35 inches (89 centimeters)

Reducing Your Waist Measurement

If your waist circumference is in the high-risk range, you can work with your doctor or take steps on your own to lose body fat and reduce the fat in your midsection to improve your health and well-being.

The first step to reducing your waist measurement is to evaluate your eating habits. Are you eating more than you need to at mealtime? Do you snack often between meals? Do you consume high-calorie soft drinks or sweetened juice beverages? Do you buy processed foods that are full of empty calories?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you'll have plenty of opportunities to adjust your diet. You may want to start by reducing portion sizes when you eat a large meal and filling your plate with nutrient-dense options. If you're not sure how much to eat, use a calorie calculator to estimate your body's needs. Then count calories to make sure you get the right amount.

Once you've implemented a sustainable healthy eating plan, then increase your activity level to burn more calories all day. Again, use a calorie estimator to find out how many calories you currently burn each day, then add small habit changes to burn a few more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work or go for a walk every evening after dinner. Every step counts in your path to healthy living.

A Word From Verywell

There are many different ways to evaluate your health and your risk for disease—waist circumference is just one of them. If you find that yours is higher than you'd like it to be, talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not you need to reduce it and get suggestions for the best ways to improve it.

Many times, small changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference in your health. So it's important to begin the conversation.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk.

  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Assessing Your Weight. Updated July 1, 2020.

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