AHWW is part of the Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA) obesity strategy. The comprehensive strategy has been put in place to help tackle overweight and obesity.
Why is it important to be a healthy weight?
- To make the most of life. Many people report how much better they feel after losing weight. It can increase energy levels, improve mood and the overall feeling of wellness.
- To keep up with your kids and be a good role model for weight and healthy eating
- To help prevent lifestyle related diseases and complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea, musculo-skeletal problems. The risk of these conditions developing can be significantly reduced through healthy diet and exercise.
Are you a healthy weight? Useful indicators:
This is an important measure because it signals whether you have an unhealthy amount of fat stored around your abdomen. The abdomen is the most dangerous place to store fat as it surrounds many vital organs like the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas. It increases the risk of diseases like type two diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and hypertension . The waist circumference measurement therefore indicates an individual’s risk of developing chronic disease.
Waist circumference is good to use in conjunction with BMI as BMI does not indicate where you are storing your excess weight or if the weight is from muscle or fat. There is less risk associated with fat stored around the hips and thighs (pear shape), opposed to the abdomen.
The measurement guidelines have only been developed for adults and can therefore not be applied to children.
How to measure:
Locate the spot halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bone (this will be approximately where your belly button is, or close to it). Once you have found this spot, measure horizontally around your waist. The measuring tape should be snug but not digging in to the skin. Breathe out normally and take the measure – it is helpful if someone can take the measure for you.
At risk ranges:
Greatly increased risk:
Men: ³ 94cm
Men: ³ 102cm
These ranges should be applicable irrespective of how tall you are. A figure that exceeds the above ranges indicates the presence of intra-abdominal fat stores (visceral fat) that will be coating your organs!
Variation amongst ethnic groups
The healthy ranges can vary depending on ethnicity. Recommendations for all ethnic groups are unfortunately yet to be determined. However, it is believed that waist measurements may be higher for Pacific islanders and African Americans than Caucasians and lower for Asian men . Limited data indicates that the risk for Aboriginal populations is similar to that of Asian populations and the risk factors in Torres Strait Islander populations similar to Pacific Islanders .
The table below illustrates the available ‘at risk’ ranges for waist circumference, based on different ethnic groups.
Ethnic Specific Values for Waist Circumference
|Country/ ethnic group||Gender||Waist circumference (indication of increased risk)|
|South AsiansBased on Chinese, Malay and Asian-Indian population||Male||>= 90cm|
|Ethnic South and Central Americans||Use South Asian recommendations until more specific data available|
|Sub-Saharan Africans||Use European recommendations until more specific data available|
|Eastern Mediterranean and Middle east (Arab) populations||Use European recommendations until more specific data available|
Table adapted from: Measure Up, Australian Government 
Body Mass Index is also used as a guide to determine risk of lifestyle related disease. It is an approximation of total body fat and is based on weight and height. One downfall is that it cannot differentiate between weight contribution from muscle and weight contribution from fat.
It is important to keep in mind that your BMI could indicate that you are a healthy weight but on the other hand, your waist circumference may reflect an increased risk for chronic disease. This can occur if you store most of your fat around your abdomen and if you have minimal muscle. The waist circumference result would be more important in this case. For this reason, it is a good idea to use BMI in combination with waist measurements. The results can be interpreted by a health professional like a dietitian or medical doctor.
Who is it less accurate for?
BMI can overestimate the amount of fat for:
- Body builders and weight lifters
- Some high performance athletes
- Pregnant women
BMI can underestimate fat for:
- The elderly
- Individuals with disabilities that lead to muscle wasting
How to calculate:
Weight (kg)/ height (m2)
Example: 52kg / 1.64m2
BMI = 19
|Classification||BMI||Risk of co-morbidities|
|Underweight||<18.50||Low (but possible increased risk of other problems)|
|Healthy weight range||18.50 – 24.99||Average|
|Overweight||25.00 – 29.99||Increased|
|Obese class 1||30.00 – 34.99||Moderate|
|Obese class 2||35.00 – 39.99||Severe|
|Obese class 3||>40.00||Very severe|
Sourced from: Measure Up, Australian Government 
Waist to hip ratio
This measurement can also assist with identifying abdominal adiposity.
How to measure:
Divide your waist measurement (cm) by the measurement of your hips (cm). An increased risk of chronic disease is linked with measurements above:
- 0.9 for men
- 0.8 for women
The fit of your clothing
You can even use your clothing as a guide to your weight. It won’t tell you if you are within a healthy range but it can indicate if you have been gaining or losing weight. Pay attention to whether your clothing has become tight or loose – you may need to take a look at how your diet has changed to encourage the altered weight. From this, you can readjust your diet to manage your weight, instead of purchasing new clothing!
Growth charts are a good indicator of childhood weight. They can measure a child’s length, weight and BMI from birth to 2 years of age and from 2 years of age to 18 years. These measurements are plotted on percentile charts that compare a child’s growth and development in relation to other children of the same age and gender. For example, a child that is on the 80th percentile for height and weight is heavier and taller than 80% of other children.
The above measurement techniques are very useful as a guide to your weight. They can help to indicate whether you are healthy, over or underweight. It is important to note that the ranges are not tailored to each individual and therefore may not be accurate for everyone – in this case, interpretation by a health professional may be useful. They should however be a good guide for the majority of the population.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have any questions about nutrition related issues, you can make an appointment with Belinda today. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!