Nutrition-wise blog

Waist size may be a predictor of life expectancy

By Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. April 17, 2014

Get out your measuring tape. There's a quick health screening you can do at home.

Waist circumference is a simple measurement that appears to say a lot about your potential life expectancy. In fact a pooled analysis of data from 650,000 adults found that waist circumference is an important number when looking at your health and longevity. This effect was independent of other risk factors, such as age, BMI, physical activity, smoking history and alcohol use.

Specifically this data showed that men with a waist circumference of 43 inches (110 centimeters) were at 52 percent greater risk of death than men with a 37 inch (95 centimeter) waist. For women, a 37 inch (95 centimeter) waist put them at 80 percent higher risk of death than women with a 27.5 inch (70 centimeter) waist. The estimated decrease in life expectancy for highest versus lowest waist circumference was approximately 3 years for men and approximately 5 years for women.

A large waist circumference is a red flag for excessive abdominal fat, which is associated with obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Do you know your waist circumference? Here's how to measure it:

  • Locate your hip bone on your abdomen.    
  • Wrap a measuring tape around your body at this level. It should be snug but not pressing into your bare skin.
  • The tape should be parallel to the floor. Relax, exhale and read the measurement.

If you don't like the number, take heart. Being physically active, eating well and watching portions can make a positive impact on your waist and overall health. Discuss your health risks and goals with your medical provider.

April 17, 2014