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WHtR: The New Determinant of Health Risk

author image Patricia Culpepper
Patricia Culpepper is an Atlanta-based writer who specializes in health and fitness, gardening and general lifestyle pieces. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in information systems from the University of Georgia. Additionally, she received a certificate in ornamental horticulture from Gwinnett Technical College and is a certified Level I CrossFit Trainer.
WHtR: The New Determinant of Health Risk
Abdominal fat is thought to be metabolically active, which may account for its negative health impacts. Photo Credit pimonpim/iStock/Getty Images

Love handles or a muffin top -- call it what you like, but these cute names for that bulge around your middle can't disguise the associated health risks. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, excess belly fat increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. A variety of measurements are used to screen for overweight and obesity, but according to a March 2012 report in "Obesity Reviews," the waist-to-height ratio -- or WHtR -- is the best tool for assessing abdominal fat and associated health risks.

WHtR: Keep It Less Than Half

The waist-to-height ratio is a simple measurement of your waist size in relationship to your height. The March 2012 analysis in "Obesity Reviews" reported that numerous studies since the mid 1990s have consistently shown that a healthy waist measurement is one that is less than half your height. For example, if you are 5 feet 8 inches tall -- or 68 inches -- you want to keep your waistline under 34 inches. This "less than half" target holds true for men and women and for different ethnic groups.

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Too much fat around the waist is associated with a significantly increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and death. According to a study of older adults published in the August 2010 "JAMA Internal Medicine," this increased risk occurs regardless of body mass index. The study found that those with the largest waist measurements had double the risk of dying over a 9-year period compared to those with the smallest waist measurements. In this particular study, a 4-inch increase in waist size was associated with a 15 to 25 percent increase in risk of death.

WHtR and Waist Circumference

Waist circumference -- a simple measurement around the waist taken at the belly button -- is an established tool used by health professionals to identify people at increased health risk. Thirty-five inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men is associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. But these guidelines do not work for everyone. Using the waist circumference alone to predict health risks has proved unreliable in short people and in certain ethnic groups. Using the WHtR ratio is simple, works for all adults and has proved to be a better predictor of these associated health risks.

WHtR and BMI

Body mass index -- or BMI -- is the measurement that has long been used by health professionals to identify overweight and obesity. BMI is a measure of body weight in proportion to height, but it has certain inherent weaknesses. For example, BMI tends to underestimate fatness for some elderly people while classifying some fit, well-muscled athletes as overweight. It also fails to take into account the differences in body composition between ethnic groups, and it does not consider the increased risk associated with abdominal obesity. The March 2012 analysis in "Obesity Reviews" found WHtR to be a significantly better predictor of health risks than BMI.

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