When it comes to staying healthy, it can be hard to know exactly which measure to live by.
After all, we know that being the same size as someone doesn’t mean you’re the same weight.
And the long-trusted Body Mass Index, which sees you divide your height by your weight, is becoming increasingly controversial thanks to the fact that it doesn’t differentiate between fat tissue and muscle tissue.
This leads athletes in peak physical condition to be labelled ‘obese’.
But now a new set of guidelines has been suggested by a health watchdog to help us better understand how to stay healthy — and they promise to account for every body type. It’s really very simple: just keep your waistline less than half your height.
A new set of guidelines has been suggested by a health watchdog which says keep your waistline less than half your height
‘If your waist measurement is higher than half your height, you are likely to have more fat deposited in your middle, which is linked to a higher likelihood of certain conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease,’ explains Dr Gareth Nye, from Chester Medical School.
Supporting the new advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), he said: ‘Abdominal fat increases are usually due to a rise in levels of visceral fat, meaning it is linked to your organs and blood vessels. It’s therefore much more likely to be a sign of underlying health problems.
‘Meanwhile, bottom and thigh fats are considered subcutaneous — or related to the skin — which, although still a sign of increased fat, is not associated with whole-body impacts.
‘Most of us are aware of our waist size when we buy clothing, and it’s quite straightforward to measure one’s height. Following these new guidelines is therefore a much more accessible way for people to understand their health and wellbeing.’
NICE says a healthy waist-to-height ratio — where you divide your waist measurement by your height — is classed as 0.4 to 0.49.
A ratio of 0.5 to 0.59 puts people at an increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. A ratio of 0.6 or more puts you at the highest risk. Thus far, no guidance has been given by NICE on what a ratio of below 0.4 signifies.
It means that a woman who is 5ft 4in — or 64in — with a waist circumference of 29 inches would have a healthy ratio. But a 32-inch waist would push her into the unhealthy range. A man who is 5ft 10in — or 70in — would be at an increased risk of health problems with a waist measuring 35 inches or more.
So, what does your waist say about you? We put 12 individuals to the test.
NEIL O’SULLIVAN, 52, 17st 7lb
HEIGHT: 6ft 6in
BMI: 28.3, overweight
Neil, a company director in personal security, admits to having put on weight over Christmas
A company director in personal security, Neil is divorced, has two children and lives in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
He says: ‘Guilty as charged. I put on a bit of weight over Christmas and I have found it hard to shift that half a stone.
‘If I have a meal, dessert and soft drinks in a restaurant I know I’ll feel awful the next day — it’s harder as you get older.
‘I am a firm believer in the principle that everyone should take personal responsibility for their weight, and I’m horrified by the fact that I’m slightly in the unhealthy zone.
‘I do exercise, but this is a good motivation for me to increase my workouts.’
LAURA POOLE, 29, 11st 4lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 3in
BMI: 28, overweight
Laura, who lives in Cardiff, says her BMI falls into the overweight category
Laura is a life coach, single, and lives in Cardiff.
She says: ‘When I tell people my weight — and the fact that my BMI falls well into the ‘overweight’ category of 25 to 29.9 as a result — they can’t believe it and say I ‘carry it well’.
‘I’m a size 10-12, eat healthily and, although I’m not particularly sporty, I do cycle and walk everywhere.
‘I think my weight comes from my chunky legs; I’ve inherited big thighs from my mum and big calves from my dad. But that doesn’t mean I’m bordering on obese.
‘This new method does seem a lot more accurate. I’m pleased to hear that it means I’m now in the ‘healthy’ category.’
TIMOTHY CAKEBREAD, 35, 12st 4lb
HEIGHT: 6ft 1in
BMI: 22.7, healthy
Timothy says he used the Coronavirus pandemic to try to get fit and healthy
Timothy is a town planner. He lives in Islington, North London with his fiancee.
He says: ‘Before the pandemic I was a good two or three stone heavier, but at 6ft 1in, it didn’t affect my fitness too much.
‘But when I looked at pictures, I could see that I was heavy. So when lockdown hit, my partner Suzanne and I decided to use the time to get fit and healthy.
‘We cut out takeaways and started cooking from scratch, as well as doing yoga and HIIT exercises. I’m the healthiest I’ve been for years.’
MARY DOLAN, 38, 9st 3lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 8in
BMI: 19.5, healthy
Marketing and communications consultant Mary said her BMI has indicated she is underweight in the past
Marketing and communications consultant Mary is single and lives in Wimbledon, South-West London.
She says: ‘For most of my adult life I have been one of those people who can eat what they like and still stay a size eight.
‘Until I turned 30, friends joked that I followed a fast-food diet and yet never put on weight, and in the past my BMI indicated that I was underweight.
‘I eat healthily during the week and have what I like at the weekend. I run twice weekly and exercise four times a week.’
SUNITA THIND, 39, 12st 7lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 8in
BMI: 26.5, overweight
Writer Sunita said her weight has gone up since being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her early 30s
Writer Sunita is married to Peter, 46, an engineer. She lives in Derby with their dog, Ghost.
She says: ‘My weight has gone up since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in my early 30s. Overnight I went into surgical menopause, and I’m now a size 16.
‘I’ve always had long legs but a prominent tummy, and that’s down to genetics. I do cardio exercise in 15-minute bursts but the tummy remains.’
FARREN MORGAN, 36, 13st 8lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 8in
BMI: 28.8, overweight
As a serving soldier, Farren says he does his best to look after his physique, training six to nine times a week on average
A Coldstream Guards Lieutenant Sergeant, Farren is married and lives in Westminster, London.
He says: ‘As a serving soldier I try to do my best to look after my physique. I train six to nine times a week on average.
‘Even so, I don’t believe in putting people into categories; we are all different shapes and sizes, and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ measuring system that works for everyone.
‘That’s why I rarely weigh myself — feeling good about yourself is just as important.
‘I usually eat three meals and two snacks every day. I certainly don’t believe in fad diets — there’s no such thing as a quick fix.’
VEE ROBERTS, 43, 12st
HEIGHT: 5ft 3in
BMI: 29.7, overweight
Vee said she has been trying to get back into a fitness routine for the last 18 months
Brand and marketing consultant Vee has four children and lives in London.
She says: ‘I can be determined when it comes to my weight; 12 years ago I even dropped a dress size for a girly holiday.
‘For the last 18 months I have been trying to get back into a fitness routine — although, so far, it hasn’t worked.
‘At 12st, I appreciate some people might say I don’t weigh a lot — but this weight doesn’t work for my health or for me.
‘I mainly work sitting down, but after this I will be getting a folding exercise bike that has a built-in laptop desk that I can work from, too.’
JANICE BRYANT, 62, 11st 7lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 5in
BMI: 26.8, overweight
Janice said she leads a healthy lifestyle, going to Aquafit twice a week and walking a lot
Retired business analyst Janice is widowed, has no children and lives in Cambridgeshire.
She says: ‘It was only when I turned 40 that I started to keep an eye on my weight. I joined Slimming World in my mid-40s, and I know how useful the scales can be when you are trying to lose weight.
‘I like to think I lead a healthy lifestyle, as I go to Aquafit twice a week and walk everywhere.
‘However, I’m not surprised I have tiptoed into the danger zone. I’ve recently been on two mini-breaks, and while I usually use an app to keep an eye on my daily calorie intake, I don’t bother while I’m on holiday.
‘My weaknesses are the three Cs: chocolate, cheese and cake.’
KWOKLYN WAN, 48, 20st 9lb
HEIGHT: 5ft 10in
BMI: 41.3, obese
Author and chef Kwoklyn has lost three and a half stone and is planning to lose more
Author and chef Kwoklyn lives in Leicester.
He says: ‘I’ve been active throughout my life, practising martial arts. However, I have always been big, and recently my weight caught up with me.
‘Last July I was told I needed a hip replacement, but because of my high BMI I’m unable to have it until I lose five stone.
‘I’ve lost three-and-a-half stone and I’m determined to reach my goal.
‘I also have type 2 diabetes, and measuring the circumference of my tummy is a good way to keep track of my lifestyle choices, too.’
CLAIRE JONES, 48, 10st 7lbs
HEIGHT: 5ft 3in
BMI: 26, overweight
Claire, a weight loss coach, said people cannot look just at their BMI to gauge their health
Claire is a weight loss coach. She lives in Dover, Kent, with husband Rick and has two grown-up children.
She says: ‘BMI is a useful starting point, but you can’t look at in isolation.
‘If your range is between 25-29 – like mine at 26 – you’re classed as overweight, and if you see a figure like that on its own, it can make you feel unhealthy.
‘So I’m glad to see this new waist-to-hip measurement puts me in the healthy range, because I know I’m healthy and very fit. I’ve run 12 marathons and lift weights regularly, so I’ve built muscle.
‘When I am in the ‘healthy’ range of weight for BMI, under 10 stone, my ribs start to become visible.’