Every body is different, and every person’s shape is unique. No two people are the same, which means individual factors like waist sizes don’t always mean much when it comes to health.

In fact, one-size-fits-all charts for weight and health risks aren’t always helpful. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

But waist sizes can help you find out if you’re at risk for potential health issues, including conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Though you shouldn’t stake your idea of health on any one number, it’s important to understand what these numbers can mean and when it might be time to take action to improve them.

Quick look

Averages for women in the United States:

  • Waist size: 38.7 inches
  • Height: 63.6 inches, or 5 feet 3 inches
  • Weight: 170 pounds
  • Pant size: Large to extra large
  • Dress size: 18 to 20

The average waist size of a woman in the United States is 38.7 inches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That measurement is an increase from a decade before. Then, the average waist size was 37.4 inches.

By comparison, the average height of a U.S. woman is 63.6 inches, or 5 feet 3 inches. The average weight for women is around 170 pounds. With these measurements, the typical American woman wears a large to extra large pant size, or between a size 18 and 20.

Average waist sizes vary by age, as well. For example:

Age Waist size in inches
20 to 30 37.1
40 to 5939.4
60 and over39.9

Quick look

Averages for teen girls in the United States:

  • Waist size: 32.6 inches
  • Pant size: Medium to large
  • Dress size: 12

For adolescents and teenage girls, ages 13 to 19, the average waist size is 32.6 inches. This is the equivalent of a medium or large pant size, or about a size 12.

Teen girls’ waist sizes increase every year, with one exception: Around age 18, it falls slightly. However, it increases the following year, at age 19.

Age Waist size in inches
1330.3
1733.4
1833.3
1934.1

Individual waist measurements won’t tell you much about your health or any potential health risks. However, there are threshold measurements at which risks for a variety of health problems increases. These measurements are:

Waist measurmentRisk level
> 31.5 inchesincreased
> 34.6 inchessubstantially increased

Likewise, your waist-to-height ratio can help you understand if you’re at risk for any health issues because of your waist size. To get this percentage, divide your waist in inches by your height in inches, and then multiply by 100.

Waist-to-height ratioRisk level
< 42 percentunderweight
42 to 48 percenthealthy weight
49 to 57 percentoverweight
> 58 percentobese

Example:

If you’re 67 inches (5 feet 7 inches) tall and your waist size is 32 inches, your waist-to-hip-ratio is 47 percent. Here is the math:

  1. 32 ÷ 67 = 0.47
  2. 0.47 x 100 = 47 percent

That puts you in the healthy weight category. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.

Some healthcare providers and experts use the waist-to-height ratio because it could help them spot health risks at an earlier stage. It may be more helpful than traditional weight measurements, including body mass index (BMI) and weight alone.

It’s possible to have a healthy BMI and still have some excess fat around your stomach that could increase the risk for developing certain diseases.

Likewise, a BMI may indicate a potential health risk when your waist-to-height ratio and other measurements don’t.

The part of your body a healthcare provider considers your true waist may be different from the part of your body you consider your natural waist.

Every person’s natural waist is a point of personal preference. Some wear clothes higher on their torso, while others prefer them lower, closer to their hip bones.

But to understand your true waist circumference, you’ll need to measure yourself at the same spot every time. To do that, follow these rules:

  1. Stand upright with your feet firmly planted shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place a tape measure around your middle, midway between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. This is called the ilium.
  3. Exhale, and then measure yourself with a natural-fitting measure. Don’t tighten it too much, and don’t let excess tape hang around your hips.
  4. You can repeat this three times and average the results if they vary.

Your health isn’t determined by one number. One measurement, score, or size won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not you’re healthy.

Wellness is a mix of many elements of well-being, from mental health and physical activity to, yes, weight and waist measurement.

But don’t let the idea of reaching a specific number — whether that’s a number on the scale or a number on a tape measure — drive any particular behaviors for you.

These numbers are meant to be guideposts, and they should help you shape your outlook and healthy-living goals. However, understand that many people with healthy BMIs can be quite unhealthy, and some people with larger waist circumferences will be exceptionally healthy.

The right measurement for someone else isn’t the right measurement for you. This is especially true if you ever compare yourself to models or individuals in television, movies, and media.

Such comparisons can set unhealthy expectations. If you set out to change your measurements based on how someone else looks, you may find yourself ill, or worse. Your body, your health, and your well-being are your own.

While waist measurements and other numbers may not always indicate a health problem, they can serve as cues for knowing when it’s time to make a bigger investment in your health.

A great deal of research has connected some measurements, including waist circumference, to increased risks for health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

If you’re interested in lowering your risk for these conditions and reducing your waist size, these resources may help:

  • A healthcare provider. This person can take baseline measurements of such health indicators as your cholesterol levels and blood pressure to see if changes happen over time. These numbers may indicate improvement, even when you can’t see the changes.
  • A personal trainer. You may not need the supervision of a fitness trainer for very long, but if you’re new to exercise or need a structured routine to get going, you can hire a personal trainer to help. These trained experts can design plans that meet your needs, as well as any physical concerns you may have.
  • A dietitian. A registered dietitian is a professional who can help you shape a healthy-eating plan. They can calculate the number of calories you should aim for in a day, given both your health and intended exercise level. They can also help you address other health factors, including hydration and necessary supplements.

The average American woman’s waist size is 38.7 inches. Also, the average American woman is 63.6 inches tall and weigh 170 pounds.

All of these numbers are indicators of health, but not predictors. In other words, any one number is just a number.

People are healthy at all sizes and shapes, and no one can determine how healthy someone will be based off of any one measurement, even waist circumference.

What’s important is understanding how these numbers, including your waist size, can help you shape a healthier future.

Embracing your body, caring for it by exercising and eating a well-balanced diet, and striving to protect it against possible health problems are all good things to do for yourself.