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Waist and Hip Measurements
There are a number of factors that can help you estimate your risk for health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. I have discussed a number of these in this column and there is information throughout the Dr. Gourmet site in The health of it all… sidebars.

Body Mass Index is not the perfect measurement
One of the measurements that is used in most research regarding common health problems is the Body Mass Index. BMI works as a good guide for us because it is an inexpensive way to evaluate body fat. It is not perfect, however, and use of Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) is being studied more and more as another measure to help guide both research and therapy in medicine today.

BMI, WHR, and your risk of diabetes
I've written previously about Body Mass Index and Waist to Hip ratio and theirusefulness in assessing your overall health. There's been some controversy in medical circles, however, about whether Body Mass Index (BMI), Waist to Hip Ratio (WHR) or simple Waist Circumference (WC) is a better predictor of type 2 diabetes.


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Watch Your Waist - Not Just Your Weight

When we talk about obesity it seems like we're most often talking about Body Mass Index (BMI). Certainly I've been doing a lot of talking and writing about it. There's another tool that doctors use to assess weight that I've talked about, just not quite as much: Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR).

We know that those with a high waist-to-hip ratio are at a higher risk for heart disease as well as other problems, but it appears that they're simply at a higher risk for death, as well.

An international group of researchers looked at the information gathered in a very large study called European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) (NEJM 2008;359(20):2105-20). This study included almost 340,000 people from 10 different countries and lasted about 10 years. Those people who participated in the study completed a questionnaire which asked for information regarding their medical history and lifestyle, which included whether they smoked or drank alcohol (and, of course, how much). Their height, weight, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio were also recorded.

The researchers compared the BMI and WHR of those people who died during the course of the study with those who did not die. Consistent with other studies of Body Mass Index and the risk of death, those who were underweight (BMI less than 18.5) and those who were overweight, obese, or severely obese (BMI over 25) having higher risks of death.

Similarly, waist circumference and WHR, taken alone, also carried a higher risk of death for those who were under- or overweight.

But when Body Mass Index and Waist-to-Hip Ratio/waist circumference were considered together, it became clear that the waist is a much stronger indicator of risk of death than we ever thought. For any given BMI, they found, an increase in a person's waist circumference of as little as 5 centimeters (almost 2 inches) meant their risk of death went up by 17% for men and 13% for women.

Further, those people with the highest waist-to-hip ratio, compared with those with the lowest, had a 79% higher risk of death for men; women's risk increased 53%.

What this means for you

Once again, those who are "apple-shaped" are shown to be at higher risk than those who are "pear-shaped." This is independent of your Body Mass Index, however: your BMI can be within the normal range, but if you have a poor Waist-to-Hip ratio score, you are still at a higher risk of death. Check your Waist-to-Hip ratio on the website.

First posted: December 17, 2008