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Healthy weight and waist

Did you know that 60% of Canadian adults are overweight or obese? Obese Canadians are four times more likely to have diabetes, more than 3 times as likely to have high blood pressure and more than two times more likely to have heart disease than those with a healthy weight.

A modest weight reduction of as little as 5% of body weight can reduce your high blood pressure and total blood cholesterol. However, simply knowing your weight is not enough to know your health risk. Did you know that you can have a healthy weight, but still be at increased risk? How our bodies store excess weight (specifically fat) can negatively impact our health.

Today, there are two methods of self-assessment that can give you a clearer picture of how your weight may be affecting your health – measuring your waistline and calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI).

Healthy waists
Measuring waist circumference can help to assess obesity-related health risk. Even at a healthy weight, excess fat carried around the waist can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high [blood] cholesterol, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. The best way to find out if your waistline is increasing your risk of heart disease is to measure it.

Where you carry your weight is just as important as how much weight you carry when it comes to your health. This two-minute video will help you determine if you're at risk for overweight-related diseases such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke by providing the proper steps to assess your waistline size with a measuring tape.

Watch a video on how
to take your waist measurement:

Can't see the video? View the QuickTime version.


Here's how to take a proper waist measurement

Tape Measure
  1. Clear your abdominal area of any clothing, belts or accessories. Stand upright facing a mirror with your feet shoulder-width apart and your stomach relaxed. Wrap the measuring tape around your waist.
  2. Use the borders of your hands and index fingers – not your fingertips – to find the uppermost edge of your hipbones by pressing upwards and inwards along your hipbones.
    Tip: Many people mistake an easily felt part of the hipbone located toward the front of their body as the top of their hips. This part of the bone is in fact not the top of the hip bones, but by following this spot upward and back toward the sides of your body, you should be able to locate the true top of your hipbones.
  3. Using the mirror, align the bottom edge of the measuring tape with the top of the hipbones on both sides of your body.
    Tip: Once located, it may help to mark the top of your hipbones with a pen or felt-tip marker in order to aid you in correctly placing the tape.
  4. Make sure the tape is parallel to the floor and is not twisted.
  5. Relax and take two normal breaths. After the second breath out, tighten the tape around your waist. The tape should fit comfortably snug around the waist without depressing the skin.
    Tip: Remember to keep your stomach relaxed at this point.
  6. Still breathing normally, take the reading on the tape.

Are you at risk?


Increased Risk

Substantially Increased Risk


More than 94 cm (37 inches)

More than 102 cm (40 inches)


More than 80 cm (31.5 inches)

More than 88 cm (35 inches)

*Some ethnic-groups or people living with risk factors may have increased risk even at lower waist circumference measurements.

Having a waistline that is below the cut-off does not mean you are completely free of risk. Your individual risk can be influenced by your health, medical history and family history, so the universal cut-points in the chart can be misleading. If you have other risk factors, like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, you might need to lower your waist circumference to minimize your risk. Reducing your waist circumference by 4 cm can have massive benefits to your risk profile and reduce your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Healthy Weight
Measuring your waistline alone won’t give you all the information you need about your weight. Knowing your waist circumference and your Body Mass Index (BMI) will help you have a good conversation with your healthcare provider about how your body is changing as you age.

The BMI is a ratio of your height and weight. It applies to people between the ages of 18 through 65, except if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or very muscular. 

  • Find your BMI by using the BMI Chart below.
  • Or calculate BMI yourself. Divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres.
  • Or, using pounds and inches, multiply your weight by 703, divide by your height, then divide by your height again.

(Source: Health Canada. Canadian Guidelines for Body Weight Classification in Adults. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada; 2003.)

If your BMI is

  • between 18.5 and 24.9, you're at lowest risk of developing health problems.
  • between 25 and 29.9, you're considered overweight.
  • 30 or more, you're considered obese.

Tracking your Healthy Waist and Healthy Weight
A single measurement of waist circumference or BMI doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about our obesity-related health issues. Tracking your waist circumference with body weight (BMI) over time, is an excellent way for you and your healthcare provider to understand how your body is changing as you age and to monitor your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Achieving a healthy weight isn’t always as simple as eating healthy and being active, but it is a great beginning. Speak to your doctor about different lifestyle options to help you maintain or achieve a healthy waistline and weight that is right for you.

Heart&Stroke Healthy Weight Action PlanThe Healthy Weight Action Plan
Get started on your personal weight loss goals today with the MY Heart&Stroke Healthy Weight Action Plan, in print or online. The Heart and Stroke Healthy Weight Action Plan is a 12-week step-by-step program that will support you in achieving healthy habits and a healthy weight – for life.

Last reviewed: June 2015
Last modified: May 2015