Many women can tell you exactly how much they weigh and how tall they are. For some it's a sticky subject, but for others, understanding what is "average," can be confusing. Do you know how your numbers stack up compared to other women in the United States?
The average height for American women is 63.7 inches (approximately 5 feet 3 inches) and the average weight is 168.5 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has been a significant increase in the average height and weight of American women since 1960 when the average woman weighed 140.2 pounds.
The average height increased during that time period, but by a much smaller margin — 63.1 to 63.7 inches. As a result of this disproportionate increase in weight, the average body mass index of women is now 29.8, which falls into the category of overweight. By comparison, the average body mass index of women in 1960 was 24.9, which is on the high end of normal.
Average Woman Height and Weight Factors
If the average height and weight of a woman in the United States doesn't fit your body, it might be helpful to see what factors contribute to your height and weight. According to the National Institutes of Health, weight is not always under your control. Of course, there will always be a dietary component to keep weight where you would like it, but genetics, age, race, ethnicity, environmental, and socioeconomic factors also influence your weight.
The average height of a women is less determined by outside factors. The U.S. National Library of Medicine indicates that 80 percent of height is determined by genetics. The final 20 percent seems to be influenced by environmental factors, most importantly proper nutrition during pregnancy, smoking by pregnant woman, good nutrition throughout childhood, and access to adequate healthcare.
If you are wondering how to properly measure your own body and assess your health, finding your waist circumference may be the tool for you. Health and medical experts use your waist circumference measurement to help screen for possible health risks that come with having overweight or obesity.
To measure properly, place a tape measure around your waist, in line with your belly button, and take the measurement on the exhale of your breath, holding the tape measure snug, but not tight.
If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you're at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For women, this risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches, which is important to note since the average American woman's waist circumference is 38.1 inches.
Body Mass Index
Body mass index (BMI) is a universally accepted measurement that is used to easily estimate whether or not you are at a healthy weight. You can determine your body mass index by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared. Then multiply by 703. Sounds complicated, right? The good news is there are several online calculators to plug your height and weight information into, and the calculator will do the math for you. Use the following categories to determine where you sit:
- Underweight: <18.5
- Healthy: between 18.5 and 24.9
- Overweight: between 25.0 and 29.9
- Obesity: above 30.0
Limitations of Using BMI
Although BMI is useful in helping to evaluate weight versus height in the majority of the women, not everyone fits the mold. For example, women who are more muscular are likely to have a higher BMI and may be classified as overweight by this system, despite being at a healthy weight.
As a result, some of the increase in BMI that has happened between 1960 and now could be due to an increase in muscle mass, but it is more likely that it's due to an increase in unhealthy, high-calorie foods and a decrease in activity levels.
Health at Any Size
There is a large movement by health professionals to get away from using solely height and weight to assess health status. This concept uses the health at any size approach and the focus is on ensuring the body is generally healthy and free from disease, rather than putting a firm number on the scale to tell a woman if she is healthy. For example, if a woman is able to exercise, eats a healthy diet, and is free from diet related conditions — such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes — but she is overweight per the BMI standards, she should still be considered unhealthy? The main goal of this movement is to adopt healthy behaviors and be at peace with your own height and weight, whatever the average says.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Body Measurements
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States 1960–2002
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Assessing Your Weight
- Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults: United States, 2007–2010
- National Institutes of Health: Factors Affecting Weight and Health
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Is Height Determined by Genetics?
- LIVESTRONG: BMI Calculator
- LIVESTRONG: Type 2 Diabetes Center