Waist Circumference: The One Health Number You Need to Know

Want to know if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes? There’s one number that can clue you in, but most people don’t know what it is and their doctors don’t routinely measure it. The need-to-know number is your waist circumference, the distance around your waist.

Experts have long known that waist circumference—an indication of how much fat you’re carrying around your middle—is a risk factor for diabetes. What’s fascinating is that no matter how much you weigh, the larger your waist circumference the higher your risk for diabetes, according to a study of nearly 30,000 people published in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine. The researchers found that overweight women and overweight men with a large waist size (more than 35 inches for women; 40 inches for men) had a similar—or higher—risk for diabetes as women and men who were obese.

When you visit your doctor, he or she may ask for your weight, figure out your BMI, and maybe even draw blood to check cholesterol, but many don’t measure waist circumference. That’s because not all are trained on how to do it and there’s no standardization.

So how can you find out your number? Measure it yourself! Here’s how:

  • Stand straight with your abdomen relaxed, your feet together and your weight divided equally between both legs.
  • Breathe normally as you wrap a measuring tape around your bare abdomen just above the hip bone—the tape should be at the narrowest part of the waist below the ribs and just above the top of the hip bones. (If there is no apparent narrowing, measure at the navel.)
  • Make sure the tape is snug, but not compressing the skin. Exhale and take the measurement.
  • The healthy cutoff for women is less than 35 inches; less than 40 inches for men.

Click here to learn about other health numbers you should know, more health checks you can do yourself, and ways to prevent diabetes.

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