Waist size should be 'half your height', says NHS watchdog—here's what you should know

A waist size less than half your height could lower the risk of future health problems, says the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

(Image credit: Getty)

An NHS watchdog has advised the British public to ensure their waist size is less than half their height to protect against health issues, as part of wider plans to combat national obesity rates. 

Forget the scales, it looks like tape might be your best bet for assessing your health at home. 

For the first time, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has advised adults with a body mass index (BMI) of under 35 to measure their waist-to-height ratio as a way of checking how healthy they are. 

Used in combination with the BMI calculator, this tool may help a person to find out if they have excess fat around their midsection—a key risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and breast cancer. 

The suggestions come shortly after the introduction of a new law that large food and drink companies in England must display the calories of non-prepacked food and soft drinks on their menus.

According to Nice's guidelines, a healthy waist-to-height ratio is 0.4 to 0.49. 

In real talk, this would mean that if you're a 5'4 tall woman, your waist circumference should ideally be 29in or less. A ratio of 0.5 to 0.59 indicates an increased risk of health complications, while 0.6 or more puts people at the highest risk of developing health issues.

The guideline also advises using lower BMI thresholds for overweight and obesity for people from south Asian, Chinese, other Asian, Middle Eastern, black African, or African-Caribbean backgrounds, as these groups tend to carry more weight around the abdomen and therefore could have increased health risks at lower BMIs. 

Dr. Paul Chrisp, Nice's director of the Centre for Guidelines, has explained how this advice will empower people to take control of their health. 

“Our updated draft guideline offers people a simple and effective way of measuring their weight so they can understand the factors that could impact on their health and take action to address them," he said. 

“Our committee found that a clear benefit of using the waist-to-height ratio is that people can easily measure it themselves, interpret the results, and seek medical advice if they are at increased health risk.”

The new guidelines have been met with some criticism from mental health experts, however, over fears that the waist-to-height measuring tool could have a negative effect on people suffering from eating disorders and body image issues. 

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at eating disorder charity, Beat, has raised concerns that Nice's proposals could encourage those with eating disorders to "engage in harmful behaviors in order to lose weight or change their body shape." 

His thoughts are echoed by eating disorders therapist, Harriet Frew, who warns that,  “Encouraging a focus on the body in this way is unlikely to benefit or motivate someone around change in regards to a healthier relationship with food." 

How to measure your waist

Measuring your waist is a fairly simple task. 

First, locate the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. Next, wrap the measuring tape around your middle at a point halfway between them—just above the belly button is usually right. Keep the tape snugly fitted around your waist and breathe naturally while you take your measurement. 

Emma Dooney
Lifestyle News Writer

Hailing from the lovely city of Dublin, Emma mainly covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health and wellness feature. Always up for a good conversation, she has a passion for interviewing everyone from A-list celebrities to the local GP - or just about anyone who will chat to her, really.

Emma holds an MA in International Journalism from City, University of London, and a BA in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.