Waist Circumference

A valid health measurement compared by gender and race.


Though waist circumference has grown in popularity as a simple, yet effective health measurement tool, you may wonder how there can be one healthy waist size for everyone. What about people who are naturally 'large boned' or 'small boned'? 

Several studies have been done on waist size and health, and research did show differences between certain ethnic groups, particularly in parts of the Asian population.* The chart at the bottom of this page shows the standard for risk of chronic health issues for a majority of the population.  Exceptions among Asian groups are listed below the chart. 


Average waist circumference for US females and males.


How to measure your waist

Place measuring tape around the most narrow point between your hips and your lower rib cage, which is usually about an inch above your navel.   Stand relaxed. Don’t suck your belly in or stick it out. The tape should not pinch your skin at all. Make sure the tape is flat on your skin all the way around your waist.  Compare your results with the chart below. 

*Note: The health risks may vary for specific ethnic groups who have a different type of body build than Western Caucasians. For example, while many parts of Asia were found to be similar to the chart above, Japanese and Middle Eastern men with a waist above 33.5 inches have increased health risks, and for Japanese women, risks increased at a waist of 35.5 inches (compared to 31.5 for westerners). 

Waist to height ratio is a new measurement method that has gained more widespread acceptance in the health science field.  Because it takes into account a person's height, it seems to have eliminated many of the concerns about race variability in the measurements.   With this method, researchers from multiple countries found that if your waist is 1/2 of your height or less, you have a significantly lower risk of chronic health issues.   The test is simple and easy to perform, as long as you are sure to measure your waist correctly!

For a more complete body weight profile, take the body mass index (BMI) and the waist-hip ratio tests also. Then look at all of your results together using the obesity scale.

Related Articles


Body mass index
Are you obese, overweight, or normal weight? How do you compare with men and women of the same height? Health risk charts are included for your reference.

Waist hip ratio
Studies show that having a small waist when compared to your hips will give you significant health benefits. Compare your measurements to healthy standards for your gender.

Obesity scale
Analyze your results from the 3 body composition tests above, and get a research-based health rating. Find out how every pound and inch of improvement counts. 

Research on obesity                                    Key scientific findings on the obesity health epidemic. Trends in the statistics and the relationship between body weight and chronic disease are examined.   Find out the impact of obesity on life expectancy and cost of living.


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