Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is one of several measurements your doctor can use to see if you’re overweight, and if that 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. People who carry more weight around their midsection (an apple-shaped body) are at higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death than those who carry more of their weight in their hips and thighs (a pear-shaped body). Even if your BMI is within a normal range, your risk for disease may be increased.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy 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 for heart disease and other conditions that are linked to being overweight.
Waist-to-hip ratio chart
|Low||0.80 or lower||0.95 or lower|
|High||0.86 or higher||1.0 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.
Advantages of WHR
WHR is an easy, inexpensive, and accurate way to see how much body fat you have. It can also help predict your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
A few studies suggest that WHR is even more accurate than BMI for predicting the risks of cardiovascular disease and premature death. For example, a 2015 study of more than 15,000 adults showed that a high WHR was linked to an increased risk of early death — even in people with a normal BMI.
This method could be particularly useful in certain groups of people. For example, WHR may be a better gauge of obesity in older adults whose body composition has changed.
Disadvantages of WHR
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’ve gained weight in your abdomen. Or, you might simply have put on extra muscle around your hips from working out.
Certain people won’t be able to get an accurate measure using WHR, including those who are shorter than 5 feet tall and those 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 whether you need to lose weight and control your disease risk factors.