Waist Circumference

What is waist circumference?

Circumference is the perimeter of, or the distance around a circle. So waist circumference is a measure of the distance around the abdomen.

Why is waist circumference measured?

Waist circumference is one of the most practical tools to assess abdominal fat for chronic disease risk and during weight loss treatment. A high waist circumference or a greater level of abdominal fat is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the following individuals are at increased risk for developing chronic diseases:

However, lower thresholds for waist circumference have been recommended for Asian populations by the World Health Organization due to recent research findings. Therefore, those at increased risk for developing chronic disease include:

Measuring-Tape Position for Waist (Abdominal) Circumference in Adults
Image showing female, skeleton and male figures with horizontal line crossing all figures just above the hips.
Photo courtesy of the National Heart,
Lung and Blood Institute

How is waist circumference measured?

To measure waist circumference locate the top of the hip bone. Place the tape measure evenly around the bare abdomen at the level of this bone. Read the tape measure and record the waist circumference in inches.

Tips for accurately measuring waist circumference

Are waist circumference measurements better at assessing risk than BMI?

The most commonly used method for classifying an individual as overweight or obese is the BMI (Body Mass Index) which is based on body weight and height. BMI may be calculated using weight in kilograms over height in meters squared. However, the BMI has limitations and can lead to the misclassification of certain individuals such as those with increased muscle mass or the elderly. Waist circumference may be a better indicator of health risk than BMI alone, especially when used in combination with BMI. Waist circumference is particularly useful for individuals with a BMI of 25-34. For individuals with a BMI less than 35, waist circumference adds little predictive power on the disease risk classification of BMI.


Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: Evidence Report.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute web site: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov