How to Measure Waist Circumference for Health

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

Peopleimages / Getty Images

Waist circumference is the measurement taken around the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus (belly button). Health experts commonly use waist measurement to screen patients for possible weight-related health problems. While a helpful tool, waist size is just one indicator that may point to certain health conditions, and it is not used to singularly diagnose any conditions or diseases.

While health experts and physicians may use this method in-office, you can also measure your own waist circumference at home.

What Waist Circumference Tells Us

Measuring the size of your waist can help you understand your risk for certain weight-related health conditions. 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 body fat may cause health problems for you in the future.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 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 use your waist measurement to calculate your waist-hip ratio (WHR), which provides another screening tool for weight-related disease risk.

Your healthcare provider may also use a body mass index (BMI) measurement as a health indicator. However, a 2019 study concluded that both hip-adjusted waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio were stronger indicators of health and potential health conditions than BMI.

How to Measure Your Waist

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 the measurement). You should also remove any bulky clothing that can add padding around your abdomen.

Follow these steps to measure your waist:

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

Take the measurement 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.

Check Your Health Risk

To find out how your waist circumference measures up, use this chart to see if your waist measurement indicates that you are at an increased risk for disease. Individual circumstances may vary, so seek the advice of a doctor to determine next steps.

If your waist measurement is greater than the numbers indicated below, your risk for weight-related health problems may be increased. For Asians, the waist circumference recommendation may need to be lower. A 2019 study done on 209 chinese men and 318 chinese women found that increased insulin resistance is observed when waist circumferences are greater than 29 inches for women and 32.5 inches for men.

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

How to Reduce Your Waist Measurement

If your waist circumference is in the high-risk range according to the table above, working with your doctor and a registered dietitian to lose body fat and reduce the fat in your midsection can improve your health and well-being. To get started, consider the following daily habits.

Diet

The first step to reducing your waist measurement for your overall health is to evaluate your eating habits. To get started, try observing your portion sizes and comparing your portions to the recommended serving size. If you're not sure how much to eat, use a calorie calculator to estimate your body's daily caloric needs. Then count calories to make sure you're getting the right amount to fuel your body and lose weight safely.

Additionally, consider increasing the nutrient density of your diet by incorporating more nutrient-packed foods into your meal planning, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and other unprocessed foods.

Nearly a quarter of all Americans skip breakfast. Although more research is needed to solidify the importance of breakfast, a 2019 meta-analysis including eight studies and about 284,000 participants suggests that skipping breakfast increases the risk for heart disease. Skipping breakfast may also increase the risk for diabetes, becoming overweight, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.

Eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages—soda, especially—can also cut down your sugar and calorie intake. Quitting a sugared beverage habit can offer multiple benefits, including improved sleep, increased energy, and notably, weight loss. This weight loss can then lead to a reduction in your waist measurement and disease risk.

Exercise

Once you've implemented a sustainable healthy eating plan, try increasing your activity level to burn more calories throughout the day and support a strong, healthy body. 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. For example, you can 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 healthier living. The CDC recommends that you get 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity with at least 2 days of the week doing muscle-strengthening training.

Lifestyle Changes

Alongside diet and exercise, some lifestyle changes can help in reducing waist circumference and improving overall health. If you consistently get too little sleep or poor sleep, it can be even more difficult to find the motivation to make healthier choices. Improving your sleep and reducing fatigue can have a direct impact on your weight loss. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults receive 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Stress, like sleep, is also intricately linked to health. Research has shown that high stress can often lead to overeating, and the foods we choose while stressed tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients.

Finally, reducing alcohol consumption can also slash your calorie intake and help support weight loss. Eliminating or cutting down on these empty calories can aid in reducing your waist circumference measurement.

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 your personal health risks and get suggestions for the best ways to improve your overall health.

Often, it's small, incremental changes to your lifestyle that ultimately make the biggest difference in your health and pave the path toward sustainable weight loss, so it's important to begin the conversation.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk.

  2. Nalini M, Sharafkhah M, Poustchi H, et al. Comparing anthropometric indicators of visceral and general adiposity as determinants of overall and cardiovascular mortalityArch Iran Med. 2019;22(6):301-309.

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

  4. Ponnalagu SD, Bi X, Henry CJ. Is waist circumference more strongly associated with metabolic risk factors than waist-to-height ratio in Asians? Nutrition. 2019;60:30-34 doi:10.1016/j.nut.2018.09.005

  5. Samuel L Buckner, Paul D Loprinzi, Jeremy P Loenneke, Why don’t more people eat breakfast? A biological perspectiveThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 6, June 2016, Pages 1555–1556, doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.132837

  6. Takagi H, Hari Y, Nakashima K, Kuno T, Ando T. Meta-analysis of relation of skipping breakfast with heart diseaseThe American Journal of Cardiology. 2019;124(6):978-986. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2019.06.016

  7. How much physical activity do adults need? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated October 7, 2020

Additional Reading