Waist circumference (WC) is an indicator of health risk associated with excess fat around the waist.

A waist circumference of 102 centimetres (40 inches) or more in men, or 88 centimetres (35 inches) or more in women, is associated with health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

How to measure waist circumference

  1. Remove clothing from the waist line.
  2. Stand with feet shoulder width apart (25 to 30 centimetres or 10 to 12 inches) and back straight.
  3. Locate the top of the hip bone. This is the part of the hip bone at the side of the waist not at the front of the body. Use the area between the thumb and index finger to feel for the hip bone at the side of the waist.
  4. Align the bottom edge of the measuring tape with the top of the hip bone. Wrap the tape measure all the way around the waist. Ensure that the tape measure is parallel to the floor and not twisted.
  5. Take two normal breaths and on the exhale of the second breath tighten the tape measure so it is snug but not digging into the skin.
  6. Take the measure of the waist to the nearest 0.5 cm (1/4 inch).

These instructions are taken from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, where you can also view a video demonstration.

Gender and ethnic-specific waist circumferences

The Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada provides a guideline for waist circumference targets on based gender and ethnicity. Below is a table summarizing waist circumference measurements that lead to increased health risks.

Ethnic-specific values for waist circumference
Country or ethnic group Central obsesity as defined by WC
Men - cm (inches) Women - cm (inches)
European, Sub-Saharan African, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern (Arab) 94 (37.6) or greater 80 (32) or greater
South Asian, Chinese, Japanese, South and Central American 90 (36) or greater 80 (32) or greater