Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is one of several measurements your doctor can use to see if excess weight is putting your health at risk.

Unlike your body mass index (BMI), which calculates the ratio of your weight to your height, WHR measures the ratio of your waist circumference to your hip circumference. It determines how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks.

Not all excess weight is the same when it comes to your health risks.

One 2021 study showed that people who carry more of their weight around their midsection (an apple-shaped body) may be at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death than people who carry more of their weight in their hips and thighs (a pear-shaped body).

Even if your BMI is within a moderate range, your risk of disease may be increased.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a moderate WHR is:

  • 0.9 or less in men
  • 0.85 or less for women

In both men and women, a WHR of 1.0 or higher increases the risk of heart disease and other conditions that are linked to having overweight.

Waist-to-hip ratio chart

Health riskWomenMen
low0.80 or lower0.95 or lower
moderate0.81-0.850.96-1.0
high0.86 or higher1.0 or higher

You can figure out your WHR on your own, or your doctor can do it for you. To measure it yourself:

  • Stand up straight and breathe out. Use a tape measure to check the distance around the smallest part of your waist, just above your belly button. This is your waist circumference.
  • Then measure the distance around the largest part of your hips — the widest part of your buttocks. This is your hip circumference.
  • Calculate your WHR by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference.

WHR is an easy, inexpensive, and accurate way to see the proportion of your body fat. It can also help predict your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Research from the American Diabetes Association suggested that WHR is even more accurate than BMI for predicting the risks of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

For example, a 2015 study with more than 15,000 adults showed that a high WHR was linked to an increased risk of early death — even in people with a moderate BMI.

This isn’t the only study that predicted health concerns using WHR. Other studies include:

  • A 2021 study found that WHR is an accurate tool for predicting hypertension.
  • A 2015 study showed that increased WHR is a better indicator than BMI for predicting complications in trauma patients.
  • A 2018 study shared that a high WHR was a significant predictor of death in women with heart failure (although researchers didn’t find a link between WHR and men with heart failure).
  • A 2016 study found that a high WHR was associated with hypertension and diabetes.

Researchers have also found decreasing WHR is associated with greater health benefits. A 2020 study found that decreasing WHR by 5 percent significantly lowered risks of developing chronic kidney disease in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Another 2021 study suggested that using the WHR method to predict health outcomes could be particularly useful in certain groups of people. For example, WHR may be a better gauge of obesity in older adults whose body compositions have changed.

It’s easy to make mistakes while checking WHR, because you need to take two separate measurements. And, it can be hard to get an accurate measurement of your hips.

WHR can also be harder to interpret than waist circumference — another measurement of abdominal obesity. You might have a high WHR because you carry more weight in your abdomen. Or, you might simply have extra muscle around your hips from working out.

Certain people won’t be able to get an accurate measure using WHR, including people who are shorter than 5 feet tall and people who have a BMI of 35 or higher. WHR is also not recommended for use in children.

Waist-to-hip-ratio is a quick and easy way to check how much weight you carry around your middle. It’s just one of several measures — along with BMI — that your doctor can use to evaluate your weight and health.

Use it as a guide to talk with your doctor about managing your weight and disease risk factors.