Is Waist-to-Hip Ratio a Better Indicator of Health?

BMI has been known as the go-to metric for assessing body weight and overall health but recent research reveals otherwise. Keep reading to understand what WHR is, implications for health and how to calculate it.

By URLife Team
03 Apr 2024

A routine check-up last month revealed my body mass index (BMI) to be in the normal range, but then my doctor started talking about waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) out of nowhere. Now I knew what BMI was, but I’d never heard of WHR, and not many outside the health community would even know what it was. So I naturally asked the doctor about it, and he told me that it was supposedly a superior indicator of overall fitness compared to BMI. And there started my deep dive into WHR, and what it could mean for my health.


In layman terms, waist-to-hip ratio is a health indicator that compares your waist measurement to your hip measurement. It is calculated by dividing the waist circumference by the hip circumference. The ratio is often used as an indicator of overall health and body composition, with higher ratios indicating a higher risk of certain health conditions.

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In simpler words, WHR is one of the ways your doctor can assess if extra weight around your waist is putting your health at risk.


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The concept of utilising waist-to-hip as a risk indicator arises from the understanding that abdominal obesity is considered more detrimental than fat accumulation in other areas like the buttocks or thighs. The abdominal obesity is defined as fall around the waistline and belly area. This is due to the correlation between abdominal obesity and elevated risks of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and diabetes.


According to the WHO, having a waist-to-hip ratio of over 1.0 may increase the risk of developing conditions that relate to being overweight, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


As per WHO, a healthy WHR is:

  • 0.85 or less for a women
  • 0.9 or less for a men


Related story: Managing Diabetes Naturally


What’s Better: BMI or WHR?

There is a massive debate around this, but most research and studies conclude: BMI fails to consider body composition and tends to overestimate thinness in shorter individuals while exaggerating fatness in taller individuals.


As per the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, USA, BMI may overestimate body fat in athletes and others with a muscular build and similarly underestimate body fat in older people and others who have lost muscle.


This is because BMI's primary drawback lies in its inability to distinguish between muscle and fat. This makes it less effective for individuals with significant muscle mass.


Another major limitation of BMI charts is that they often underestimate how overweight individuals are in comparison to alternative methods such as measuring body fat percentage, waist to hip ratio.


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How to Calculate Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Step 1. Measure your waist

Locate the narrowest part of your waist, typically just above your belly button. Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your waist in inches or centimetres.


Step 2. Measure your hips

Find the widest part of your hips, usually around the buttocks. Wrap the tape measure around your hips and record the measurement in inches or centimetres.


Step 3. Divide waist measurement by hip measurement

Once you have both measurements, divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. This will give you your waist-to-hip ratio.


Step 4. Interpret the ratio

A higher ratio indicates more weight around the waist, while a lower ratio suggests weight is distributed more evenly or concentrated in the hips. Compare your ratio to the given ranges to assess your risk for certain health conditions. The ideal waist to hip ratio is different for men and women.


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WHR: Is It Important?

Not everyone has the same body shape. Few are pear-shaped, hourglass, while others have rectangular or apple-shaped body types. Individuals with a high waist-to-hip ratio tend to have weight concentrated around their midsection, leading to an "apple" body shape. Studies indicate that individuals with an "apple" body shape face a higher risk of certain health conditions compared to those with a "pear" shape, where the hips are wider than the upper body.


When you have too much fat around your belly, it's called abdominal obesity. This fat, known as visceral fat, wraps around your organs like your liver. It releases substances such as hormones, fatty acids and various chemicals that cause inflammation, which makes your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels go up. It also raises the amount of another type of fat called triglycerides in your blood.


Cardiovascular Diseases 

As stated by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, USA abdominal adiposity (belly fat) is positively linked to higher chances of developing cardiovascular diseases, independent of overall adiposity.


Another 2011 study published by the Department of Public Health, Norway found that WHR was more effective in predicting cardiovascular disease than BMI.



A 2002 study published by the University of Texas, USA, found that women with a WHR of over 0.80 have a lower pregnancy rate than those with a lower WHR, irrespective of their BMI.


Kidney Diseases 

Studies have revealed that reducing waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is linked to enhanced health advantages. In a 2020 study, reducing WHR by 5 per cent was found to notably reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease development in individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.


While WHR provides valuable insights and is a quick and easy method to gauge overall health, it is also important to recognise that it's just one of many ways to assess health and is merely a health indicator and not a foolproof metric of assessing overall health. For better accuracy, reliable results and comprehensive understanding, it's advisable to undergo the recommended blood work and other body examinations done.


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.


Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have any underlying condition. Taking regular health checks can help detect the condition at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.

With our medical professionals by your side, routine health check-ups will never be an issue. Advanced laboratory technologies back UR.Life’s Occupational Health Centers (OHC), and with highly qualified experts/technicians, we’re committed to delivering trusted and quality recommendations, modifications and advice to you.



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