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Beyond Trim: Actually measure the waist, don't rely on pant size

The American Heart Association and other entities encourage everyone to “know their numbers,” and most of us know that means things like blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

Knowing these numbers is especially important for people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes, because they are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure and these factors increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other serious health complications.

Another number to know is your waist size and it may be equally and even more important than other measurable risk factors. Excessive abdominal fat can be the precursor or the “canary in a coal mine” to indicate risk for illness and premature death.

In a study of over 14,000 subjects, those with higher waist circumferences were more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome (multiple risk factors for diabetes and heart disease) than those with normal waist circumferences. This was true even for people who fell into the “normal” category for BMI or Body Mass Index which is calculated using a person’s weight and height.

What is a normal waist circumference? A good rule of thumb is a measurement of 35 inches or less for women and 40 inches or less for men. Note: If you are a man whose belly overlaps your waistband, you can’t go by your pant size! To measure your waist, start with one end of the tape measure at your belly button. Wrap the tape around your body. Make sure the tape is not too tight, and that it’s straight and even. Exhale and check the number right after you exhale.

It should also be noted that 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is just a guideline and a person’s height and build should also be taken into consideration. For example, a very small woman who has a 35-inch waistline may need to be concerned and a very tall and solidly built man could have a waistline a bit above 40 inches without metabolic consequences.

So, watch your waistline and your other numbers as well. Even if you feel healthy it’s important to monitor them, because there are no clear symptoms for prediabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure and these conditions can become severe before there are any warning signs.

Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.