For many years, the medical establishment has considered Body Mass Index (BMI) to be a key indicator of heart disease. Physical checkups often result in a doctor providing the patient with a BMI percentile and based on that figure, assessed whether the patient was in the at-risk category. But a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet, suggests that there is another, more effective method for detecting heart disease risk. And all it involves is a tape measure and a calculator.
BMI is considered the standard measure of obesity. It takes into account a person's weight and height and comes up with a percentage that indicates whether the individual is overweight or not. A percentile over 25 suggests that a patient cannot afford any further weight gain. But BMI has long been criticized for its central fallibility -- it does not factor in where on the body the patient's fat lies, or whether the body mass constitutes fat or muscle. With BMI, a lean, muscled athlete could have the same percentile as an out of shape couch potato. This is why researchers have been searching for a more effective, but just as simple, measurement for obesity.
It appears that the waist/hip ratio may be exactly that. A Canadian led study, crunching data from 27,098 patients in 52 countries, concluded that BMI is three times less likely to indicate heart attack risk than waist/hip ratio. Because there are such established links between obesity, abdominal fat and the increased risk of heart disease, it made sense to look at whether waist size could be an appropriate indicator of health issues. It became clear from the study that BMI in heart attack patients was only slightly higher than in control groups, while those same patients' waist/hip ratios were significantly higher than those of their counterparts.
The study further concluded that by measuring abdominal size, physicians are targeting areas on the body definitively linked with heart disease, rather than the mass of the body as a whole.
Also, a hip size larger in circumference than the abdominal region suggests a good distribution of lower body muscle mass. What's more, the measurement process is simple.
To determine if you have a healthy waist to hip ratio, use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your hips at the widest part of your buttocks. Then measure your waist at the smaller circumference of your natural waist, usually just above the belly button.
To determine the ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip
measurement. For a healthy woman, the figure should be 0.85 or less. For a healthy man, the figure should read 0.9 or less. Here is a calculator and chart.
While there is clearly more research to be done, the study does suggest that you should ask your doctor to factor waist/hip ratio into an overall assessment of your health. Given that the links between obesity and heart disease are so established, it makes good health sense to try and reduce your waist/hip ratio by eating appropriately and exercising frequently. Make that tape measure your best friend, rather than your worst enemy!