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Please note that the Measure Up 4 Health Q & A page is now archived as a reference and is not being kept up to date.

Questions & Answers


Q. Is waist measurement so important? I’ve always had a big waist, even when I’ve been what I consider, a normal healthy weight.

A. The use of waist measurement as an indicator of disease risk is a valid clinical technique. This is well researched and supported both internationally and in Australia. Agencies supporting this view include the National Health and Medical Research Council, The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Diabetes Australia, The Dietitians Association of Australia, and The World Health Organisation.

 

The NSW Cancer Council and Diabetes Australia in fact have both recently had their own waist measurement campaigns.

Increased body fat distributed around the abdominal area is a potential risk factor for disease independent of total body fat i.e. having weight around your middle (apple shape) is more of a health risk than weight on your hips or thighs (pear shape).

Waist measurement is regarded as a more accurate indicator of risk than Body Mass Index (BMI)* in considering associated health risks. However, combining your BMI measure and waist measure may provide a more accurate indication of your status.

Waist measurement also offers high predictive validity and less potential for error when compared to waist to hip ratio measurements, another popular screening technique.

For a comprehensive discussion of the evidence please go to ‘Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults’, The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and The National Health and Medical Research Council, updated 2004.
 

 


Q. I don’t consider myself ‘fat’ but the tape says my waist measurement is in the “hazardous” range. Are you promoting the wrong message?

A. The information on the tape is designed to raise people’s awareness about their level of risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, not fatness. “Hazardous” indicates an increased level of risk and a gentle reminder that you may need to assess your lifestyle.
 

 

 


Q. The tape measurements don’t take into account height, body type or age. Isn’t this over generalising to suggest these measurements are relevant to everyone?

A. These internationally accepted measurements are considered valid independent of body type or height. It is however acknowledged that the relationship between waist circumference and body fat differs with gender, age and between ethnic groups.

The “cut-off “ measures used here are for adult males and females of European descent (Caucasian). Cut–offs are slightly lower for people of Asian and Indian descent and are thought to be slightly higher for people of Pacific Islander or African descent. We are aware that these World Health Organisation measures do not take into account age. As you can appreciate, with any population health campaign, it is always a challenge to tailor health information for each individual. We acknowledge this, which is why we state in the brochure; “waist measure is an indication only. If you are concerned and want more information about your health risks please visit your doctor.”

Far more accurate methods of determining fat as a proportion of body mass include imaging techniques such as MRI. The expense and relative scarcity of the necessary equipment however normally preclude such techniques even at a clinical level.
 



Q. The only people in our workplace who were in the tape’s “normal” range appear slightly underweight to me. I think you should check your tape measure.

A. It may be that community perceptions of what is a ‘healthy weight’ may not align with the current internationally accepted guidelines. Rates of overweight and obesity have been on a steady increase for decades. In NSW rates increased from 38% to 53% between 1990 and 2005 (the Central Coast is slightly above the State average). A curious aspect to this trend is that as a greater percentage of our population enters these weight categories, the more being overweight is normalized. “Overweight or obese men and women are increasingly likely to see themselves as having an acceptable weight. On an age standardised basis, the proportion of overweight or obese adults who perceived themselves as having an acceptable weight increased from 37% in 1995, to 41% in 2001, and 44% in 2004-05”. Australian Bureau of Statistics, January 2008.
 

 


Q. A number of the women in our workplace are fit, active, ride bicycles to work or do regular walking, exercise, bring fresh food in for lunches, eat healthy, are aged over fifty and do not look overweight but look healthy. According to the tape they are in the “hazardous” range.

A. The waist circumference measures in the “hazardous” and “harmful” range represent an increased risk for certain diseases. Other risk factors, including lifestyle, need to be taken into account when assessing an individual’s risk. An active lifestyle and healthy diet are certainly major factors in reducing risk and are promoted and encouraged by the Measure Up 4 Health campaign. Once again, as you can appreciate, with any population health campaign, it is always a challenge to tailor health information for each individual. We therefore rely on individuals to make a reasonable assumption about whether the information is appropriate for them.
 

 

 

*Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI compares your weight for your height. The healthy weight range for adults is a BMI between18.5 and 25.

“BMI is an acceptable approximation of total body fat at the population level and can be used to estimate the relative risk of disease in most people. However, it is not always an accurate predictor of body fat or fat distribution, particularly in muscular individuals, because of differences in body-fat proportions and distribution.” 1.

How to work out BMI
Work out your BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.
For example, if you weigh 90kg and are 170cm tall, divide 90 by 1.7 x 1.7 (2.89) and you get a BMI of 31.
When you have worked out your BMI, use the following table to find out your body weight range.

 

Less than 18.5 Underweight
Between 18.5 and 25 Healthy weight
Between 25 and 30 Overweight
More than 30 Obese


 

 

Hopefully you have found an answer to your question on this page. For a comprehensive discussion of the evidence behind the Measure Up 4 Health campaign please go to ‘Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults’, The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and The National Health and Medical Research Council, updated 2004.

If you haven't found an answer to your question regarding Measure Up 4 Health we welcome you to email the MU4H Team click here.

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