We’ve got information this month that may help you save a bundle on expensive medical tests. If you’ve got a tape measure and a pocket calculator handy, it will take only about 60 seconds to glimpse your risk for coronary disease and heart attack
Your Butt May Be Your Heart’s Best Friend
We all know that obesity increases our risk for virtually every health problem, from diabetes to cancer. But recent research findings suggest that not all fat is equally bad for you. It’s what jiggles around your waist that you really need to be concerned about.
Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is the newest and probably the best at-home test for coronary health. In fact, some experts even say that the best way to predict your risk for heart attack and other obesity-related diseases is simply to divide the width of your waist by the width of your hips.
So why not do it right now
Measure your waist with a non-stretchable measuring tape at the narrowest point between the bottom of your ribcage and your hip bones. Tension should be firm but don’t pull so tight that you compress the tissue underneath. Measure your hips at the widest point around your butt.
Bottom line: your waist should be SMALLER than your hips.
- For women: waist-to-hip ratio should be no higher than 0.8
- For men: there’s a little more wiggle room, but nothing higher than 0.95
If your belly has caught up to the size of your hips—even if you’re thin and fit—you would be wise to make some dietary changes. That’s because abdominal fat is more likely than any other fat to initiate metabolic changes that ultimately lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. In other words:
- Extra fat on a woman’s hips does not appear to predict increased risk nearly as much as a flabby belly.
- A man’s beer belly is far more dangerous a problem than a slightly wide behind.
WHR has all but supplanted Body Mass Index (BMI) as a reliable rubric for coronary risk. Still a useful way to determine if you’re overweight, BMI is calculated by dividing you body weight (in kilograms) by the square root of your metric height. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and certain cancers.
Scientists now agree that there are problems with the BMI because it ignores muscle and bone structure. So it can indicate overweight in healthy athletes and others who have a heavy, muscular build. Conversely it can underestimate body fat in older people who have lost valuable muscle, not dangerous flab. WHR on the other hand, appears to be “consistently and strongly” predictive of coronary heart disease for men and women.
A number of studies make the argument for WHR. The most recent was published just this past August by a team at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Principle investigator Dr. Dexter Canoy reports that in following 24,508 men and women (ages 45-79) for nine years, his team found that slightly fewer than 11 percent developed coronary heart disease. And their risk increased continuously as their waist-to-hip ratio went up. Even among obese men, the rate of heart disease was slightly lower among those with a lower WHR. “And in women, at all levels of BMI, waist-to-hip ratios were strongly predictive of heart disease.”
How big is big enough? Well, in the UK study, with every increase of roughly 2.5 inches in hip circumference for men and roughly 3.5 inches in women—the risk of coronary heart disease dropped by 20%.
Of course, packing on inches below your waist is not an intelligent goal. Fat is fat, and none of it is good. The evidence does remain, however: even among the overweight, bigger hips and smaller waists are associated with lower risk. And even if you maintain normal weight, you face increased risk if your waist-to-hip ratio is high.