How Do You Measure Up?

Laura Brieser-SmithFor quite a while now, health professionals have relied on body-mass index (BMI) as a standard for determining how weight affects one’s health.  However, recent studies have shown only a weak link between high BMI and disease, making BMI a somewhat imperfect indicator of health status.

Because BMI calculations involve using only one’s height and weight, BMI does not distinguish between weight coming from muscle and weight from fat.  Consequently, a muscular person could end up having a high BMI, while an unfit person with little muscle could appear to be healthy.  More importantly, BMI does not indicate where a person carries fat on their body.  Research has long shown that belly fat, rather than the fat around the hips, poses more risk for a per­son developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.  So, if BMI is not the best measure, what is better?  Waist-to-hip ratio is great at differentiating between belly and hip fat.

To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, simply measure you waist at its narrowest point and your hips at their widest.  Divide your waist measurement by your hip measure­ment.  For women, a ratio of more than 0.8 shows increased risk of disease.  For men, that number is 0.9.

Another good measurement is to compare your waist measurement to your height (without shoes).  For both men and women, your waist measurement should be less than half your height.

Finally, having your body composition tested will tell you what percent of your weight comes from fat.  This can be done through a variety of methods, most of which can be very easily admin­istered.  Keeping body fat below 32 percent for women and 25 percent for men will diminish health risks.  Regardless of the method you choose to assess it, the bottom line is that maintaining a body weight that is healthy for you is one of the more important steps you can take towards good health.

Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices.  She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at

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