Measuring Obesity

Measuring obesity

We have always looked at the weighing scale as a measure of obesity. Other popular indices include BMI – the Body Mass Index, Waist to hip ratio, Waist circumference, skin fold thickness etc.

The sad reality is that most of us still measure obesity by scale alone and a scant few even know the tape does matter.

A recent study conducted in over 262 centers in 52 countries amongst 27000 patients all over the world clearly indicates that amongst various measures commonly used to measure obesity, waist to hip ratio shows a clear relation with the risk of heart attack. This ratio was the strongest predictor of heart attack in men & women across all ages and ethnic groups, in smokers and non smokers and in those with or without high cholesterol, diabetes or high BP. By contrast, the relation of BMI to heart attack was less consistent. Thus, the global burden of obesity has been substantially underestimated by the reliance on BMI in the previous studies.

Women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches may have a higher disease risk than people with smaller waist measurements because of where their fat lies.


To measure the waist circumference, place a tape measure around the bare abdomen just above the hip bone. Be sure that the tape is snug, but does not compress the skin, and is parallel to the floor. Relax, breath out, and measure the waist.

Table 1. Healthy vs. Unhealthy Weight – Using BMI and Waist Circumference

Healthy Weight Overweight
BMI BMI 19-24.9 BMI Over 25
Percent Body Fat Women 15-25% Over 27%
Men 10-20% Over 20%
Waist Circumference Women Varies 35 inch
Men Varies 40 inch
Sources Include information from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and American Dietetics Association.

Risk reduction

What action should be taken to prevent this global epidemic? What remedies need to be done to prevent our chubby cute children from becoming sick adults?
With a cure remaining elusive, appropriate counseling is urgently warranted.

  • Diet and nutrition, including reduced calorie diets,
  • Safe and effective exercises, individually tailored to obese individual,
  • Behavior modification and lifestyle changes, to include discussions of proper eating habits, dealing with stress-related eating, family meal planning changes, healthful snacking, etc.
  • Prescription appetite suppressants, if indicated, as an adjunct to a comprehensive medical weight loss program and other medications

It is high time we take stock of our shape and plan our lifestyle. Throw that weighing scale and get the tape, measure your waist and your risk.

This article has been prepared along with Dr Menaka R (, fellow Endocrinilogist.