You may know that having a larger belly puts you at greater risk for a number of medical conditions. But how exactly do you measure your waist?

People with a lot of abdominal fat (that is, an apple-shaped body) are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other conditions. In contrast, a larger hip circumference (a pear-shaped body) may actually be somewhat protective, especially in women. The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)—or even just a waist measurement alone—is thus a good way to assess your over all health risk, because it takes both factors into account.

It’s not always obvious, however, where to measure the waist. It may not be where your belt is, for instance. You should measure at the narrowest point between the lower rib and the top of the hip bone, or at the midpoint in between. Do not suck in your belly. If you can’t find the narrowest point (it may be difficult if you’re very overweight), measure just above your belly button.

Measure your hips at the widest part of your buttocks as viewed from the side. To calculate the ratio, divide the waist number by the hip number.

A waist-to-hip ratio above 0.9 for men and 0.85 for women indicates above-average risk; above 1.0 for men and 0.95 for women, high risk. Measuring just your waist is also an accurate gauge: more than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women indicates high risk. However, these are not magical numbers; there’s some evidence that risk starts to rise before those cutoff points.

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