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Apples and Pears: explaining waist-hip ratio and why you need to check yours.

Have you heard of Apple and Pear shapes? An apple shape will have slender legs and a rounded tummy while a pear will have a slimmer waist with extra fat stores around the hips and thighs. Those of us with pear shapes are known to experience less heart disease, the supposition being that this is because we don’t store our fat around our vital organs like round-tummied apples.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) collated research as far back as 1997 during their Expert Consultation on Obesity which indicated that larger waist measurements tallied with health problem called metabolic syndrome. This is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity which puts people at greater risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and other conditions that affect the blood vessels.

BMI or body fat measurements can only give full body readings but do not represent the distribution of fat throughout the body. The WHO needed to find an appropriate measure of abdominal or belly fat to gauge the world population risk of metabolic syndrome. This finally led to the WHO Expert Consultation on Waist Circumference and Waist–Hip Ratio in 2008.

As different body shapes are prevalent across the world the waist-hip ratio differs slightly and the WHO has completed several studies to allow for disparity in body shape. In consequence, it was concluded that asian populations on average benefit more from a single waist circumference measurement than the waist-hip ratio reading.

There are a few other exceptions to the waist-hip ratio. Children’s readings are not accurate, nor are the measurements of people under 5’ tall. If your BMI is over 35 it is unlikely that the waist-hip ratio will be correct.

So how do you take your waist-hip ratio reading and what does it mean?

Firstly, using a measuring tape which reads in cms, measure the slimmest part of your waist. This is usually just above the belly button. Next measure the widest part of your hips and bottom. Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. For example, a woman with a waist of 70cms and hips of 100cms would divide 70 by 100, which would give a reading of 0 .7.

The WHO states that abdominal obesity is defined as a waist/hip ratio above 0.90 for men and above 0.85 for women. People with a waist/hip ratio greater than these will have a higher risk of Metabolic Syndrome.

It’s true to say that body shape is to some extent genetic but we can still reduce this risk by monitoring our waist-hip ratio and maintaining safe BMI and body fat percentage readings. While it is possible to have an unhealthy BMI and still have a safe waist-hip ratio, this is quite unusual. Monitoring BMI, Body Fat and waist-hip ratio together is the best method of keeping your heart healthy and reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome.

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