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Why body shape matters

The size of your belly can be a sign of how healthy you are, especially if you're of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi south Asian origin. Find out how to measure your waist and what you can do to lose weight.

We all store spare body fat under the skin, and also around the vital organs in our abdomen. Fat around the abdomen is associated with more health problems than, say, fat carried around the bottom or on the thighs.

Some people tend to carry excess weight around their belly, which has been called an 'apple' shape, and others store weight around their thighs and bottom, often called a 'pear' shape.

Being apple-shaped is worse for your health than being pear-shaped. Having a large amount of fat around your belly (compared with having fat around your bottom or thighs) means you may be more likely to develop heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. This risk seems to be higher in people from south Asian communities.

"Research shows that fat around the belly of a south Asian person is more risky than the same amount of fat in a white person, putting them at increased risk of heart disease and diabetes," says Dr Justin Zaman of the South Asian Health Foundation and consultant cardiologist at James Paget University Hospital in Norfolk.

"This means that south Asian people are more likely to develop diabetes than white people."

No matter where on the body you carry excess weight, losing this weight would benefit your health.

But if you are of Bangladeshi, Indian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani origin and have extra weight around your belly, it's worth thinking about how you can lose that weight to reduce risks to your health.

How healthy is your weight?

To get an idea of how healthy your weight is, find out: 

  • your body mass index (BMI) 
  • your waist measurement


BMI is a measure of how healthy your weight is for your height. You can find out yours by using the BMI healthy weight calculator. Anyone with a BMI over 25 is considered to be overweight. However, the World Health Organization acknowledges that this can vary between different populations. The point at which BMI puts someone at risk of health problems varies from 23 to 25 for different Asian populations. 

If you are concerned about your weight and would like advice, talk to your doctor.

Waist measurement

Knowing your waist circumference is also helpful as it can be used together with your BMI to provide a better idea of your health risk.

To find your waist, feel for your hip bone on one side of your body. Move upwards until you can feel the bones of your bottom rib. Halfway between is your waist. For most people this is where their tummy button is. Use a mirror the first time to see what you're doing, and to make it easier to measure.

A healthy waist size for all women is 80cm (31.5in) or less. For south Asian men it's 90cm (35in) or less, and for other men it's 94cm (37in) or less.

Your body shape

Anyone carrying excess weight, anywhere on the body, would find health benefits from losing that weight. It's particularly important that you change your diet (see 10 tips for a healthy diet) and do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

This will improve your health, reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and increase your life expectancy.

Physical activity can improve the health of anyone who is overweight, and it's not just a matter of burning calories. Your heart, lungs and circulation will benefit, too.

Get tips on losing weight.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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