Waist Circumference

Waist circumference is a measurement that gives an indication of fat related health risk. Although your body composition is an important indication as well. Not everyone has access to a reliable device to measure body composition such as an MRI-scan or DEXA scan or to someone skilled with a skin fold caliper. To measure waist circumference only a flexible measurement tape is needed so it is accessible to practically everyone and not complicated. In addition, body fat is not distributed in the same way for everyone. Two persons with the same relative amount of body fat can store their fat on different locations such as hips or inside the abdomen. Since internal abdominal fat (see also visceral fat) greatly increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus type 2 and more visceral fat corresponds with an increased waistline, this measurement can help indicate whether or not you are at increased risk for developing these disorders.

How to measure waist circumference

Take a flexible measurement tape and put it around your waist. The tape measure should be held above the navel but below the lowest ribs at the narrowest point of the torso. Make sure the tape measure is completely horizontal and that the one who is measured stands upright and relaxed and before measurement breathes out normally. Compare the value with those in Table 1 below to get an indication of developing cardiovascular disease or other fat related conditions.

Waist circumference norms (in centimetres and inches)
Men Women Risk category
Less than 94cm (37 inch) Less than 80cm (inch) Low
94-102cm (37-40 inch) 80-88cm ( inch) High
Greater than 102cm (40 inch) Greater than 88cm ( inch) Very high

Table 1: Waist circumference norms

Note: these norms apply to Caucasian adults and Asian women. Currently not enough data on other ethnic groups is available.

Risk category:

Low: You are not at increased risk of developing lifestyle related diseases such as cardiovascular disease. You can maintain your current lifestyle, although it does not hurt to improve it further.

High: You are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease or other lifestyle related diseases. Either improving your diet, decreasing your energy intake or starting strength and endurance training will help losing weight and abdominal fat.

Very high: You are at very high risk of developing lifestyle related diseases. Large changes in lifestyle in multiple areas are necessary to improve your health. Improve your diet, decrease your energy intake, start training to increase muscle mass and improve cardiovascular endurance and exercise more every day.


-Bushman, B. (2011). Assesing Personal Fitness. Complete Guide to Fitness & Health. First Edition. USA Human Kinetics.

-Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. 2007.