Medical experts agree that weight alone is a poor gauge of a person's health. It's the composition of that weight that matters most. But the body mass index can be a poor indicator of body composition because it only uses two variables (height and weight) to arrive at a conclusion. Fortunately, there are newer, more accurate assessments available.
Many online body composition calculators can be found with an Internet search. Unlike the BMI, which only relies on weight and height, these calculators may ask for race, sex, age and measurements of waist, hips, chest, thighs or even wrists. Multiple measurements lead to a more accurate analysis of your particular body composition.
In addition, recent research by U.S., German and Austrian medical experts has shown that your waist-to-tallness ratio -- also referred to as waist-height ratio -- is a more accurate forecaster of heart disease risk than the BMI. To determine your waist-to-tallness ratio, multiply your height in inches by 0.55 if you're a man, or by 0.53 if you're a woman. Your waistline should be equal to or less than the resulting number.
Another slightly less reliable, though important, gauge of your health as it pertains to body composition, is the waist-to-hip ratio. Wrap a tape measure around your waist (in line with your belly button), then measure the circumference of your hips (women should measure using the widest part of their buttocks while men are encouraged to measure from the top of their hip bones). The World Health Organization defines abdominal obesity in men as a waist-to-hip ratio of greater than 0.85. In women, a reading of 0.9 or greater indicates abdominal obesity.
Perhaps the simplest diagnostic measurement of health is simply waist circumference alone. The American Heart Association and The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute consider women with a waist circumference greater than 35 inches (88 cm) abdominally obese. For men, the number is 40 inches (102 cm) or greater.
Not interested in using formulas and making calculations to arrive at your healthy weight? Next, we'll review the best and worst diagnostic tools available.