Measure your waist

Your waist measurement is a simple way of knowing where fat sits on your body and whether it is a risk to your health.

In this article

Waist size and heart disease

A waist measure is the measurement around your tummy and is usually recorded in centimetres (or inches). It’s important to know that your waist measurement won’t be the same as the measurement you use when shopping for jeans or pants.

A waist measurement can be useful because the fat around your organs like your liver and pancreas (also called visceral fat) is more of a risk to your heart health1. When you carry excess fat around your middle it can raise your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. All of which impact on your risk of heart disease1.

Your waist measure doesn’t tell the full picture of your health. However, it is an important risk factor no matter how much you weigh. Combining your waist measure with your BMI can give an overall better picture as to whether your current weight might be affecting your health1,2.

Your health professional may take your weight, blood pressure and request blood tests to understand your risk of heart disease and other health conditions1,2.

Who shouldn’t measure their waist?

A waist measurement is not suitable for:

  • women who are pregnant
  • teenagers, children, babies and toddlers
  • people who have a medical or health condition where they have swelling of the abdomen.

The recommended waist size (see below) may be less accurate for certain ethnic groups including Māori, Pasifika and Asian populations.

When can a waist measure be helpful?

A waist measurement can be a useful way to help you and your health professional see changes to your body shape and risk of heart disease over time. We can often focus too strongly on our weight and as a result can feel disappointed when this doesn’t shift. However, your weight doesn’t tell the full story. If you’ve made changes to your lifestyle, you may see more motivating changes to your waist measure.

There is evidence that your waist measurement can change and improve your risk of heart disease independent of weight changes1.

How to measure your waist

One of the simplest ways to keep an eye on your waist size is to notice how your clothes feel around your middle.

You may notice your clothes feel different if your waist gets bigger or smaller. This may be more noticeable as seasons change and as you wear different clothes or even if you feel bloated after a big meal. Changes to how clothing fits, or what belt notch you use, can be a good way to know if your waist is getting bigger or smaller.

If you want to know your waist measure, it is simple to do it yourself (or have someone in your household do it for you). All you need is a tape measure.

How to measure your waist 3:

  1. Stand upright with feet close together and arms at the side.
  2. Find the bottom of your last rib and the top of your hip bone.
  3. Place the tape measure midway between these points and wrap it around your waist. This is usually just above your belly button.
  4. Relax and breathe in and out normally.
  5. Take your measurement at the end of a breath out.
  6. Repeat to double check.

What does my waist measurement mean?

No matter what your weight is, it is recommended for your waist measurement to be3:

  • Men: less than 94cm (37 inches)
  • Women: less than 80cm (31.5 inches)

There is a substantially increased health risk with a waist measure of more than 102cm in men and 88cm in women.

For men of South Asian, Chinese and Japanese origin, a lower waist measurement is recommended (less than 90cm / 35.4 inches)4.

Manage your weight

Managing your weight is important for your health. When it comes to heart health, it's best to focus on the things you can control in your everyday life.

These include:

Items depicting a health fitness lifestyle, including hand weights, trainers, an apple and a bottle of water.

Be aware of any sudden, unplanned and unexplained weight gain or weight loss. If this happens, it's best to speak to a health professional to find out why it’s happened.

If you're worried about your weight, we recommend discussing it with your GP, practice nurse or a registered dietitian or nutritionist.

 

What is my risk of heart disease?Manage your weight

References

1. Powell-Wiley TM et al (2021). Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation; 143(21):e984-e1010.
2. Ross R et al (2020). Waist circumference as a vital sign in clinical practice: a Consensus Statement from the IAS and ICCR Working Group on Visceral Obesity. Nature Reviews Endocrinology; 16(3):177-89.
3. World Health Organisation (2008). Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio: Report of a WHO Expert Consultation.
4. International Diabetes Federation (2006). The IDF consensus worldwide definition of the metabolic syndrome.