The current (February/March 2019) issue of AARP The Magazine (which arrived in mid-March, but that is a discussion for another time) has an article on “7 Numbers That Reveal Your Heart Disease Risk.” One of these is “waist circumference.” The number to shoot for is 35″ or less for women (40″ for men). The article provides the following instructions:
To measure your natural waist, grab an old-fashioned tape measure and stand without pushing out or sucking in your belly. Wrap the tape measure around your torso just above your hip bones. (If you lean to one side, a crease forms at the point of your natural waist.) Exhale, then measure.
This is exactly how I would define my natural waist. That is where I want the waistband of my pants and skirts to sit. It is the point at which I am narrowest, so it is a secure place for garments to rest.
Although it is my narrowest point, it is, of course, not as narrow as it once was. I never had an 18″ waist à la Scarlett O’Hara. I don’t think I could have managed that even with a corset (or the Merry Widow that was popular in my salad days), but I think I once boasted 24″. It’s more than that now but still well under 35″.
But you wouldn’t know that from my medical record. The last time I went in for my annual Medicare wellness visit, the nurse wanted to measure my waist. I cleared the area of covering garments and started to put the tape measure at my waist. No, she instructed me, put the end of the tape measure on my navel and then twirl around so that the tape circles me at that point.
This is insane! My navel is 3″ below my natural waist, and the measurement there is some 8″ greater than my actual waist measurement. Because I have a tummy. I have always had a tummy—apparently from birth. Pictures of me from childhood show me with stick-thin arms and legs and round little belly. Even when I had no hips and buttocks to speak of, I always had a protuberant abdomen. So measuring my “waist” this way is disastrous.
My BMI doesn’t need any further insults. I’ve always been short, but now I’m even shorter. Historically, I was 5′3″. Not too long ago I was measured at 5′2½″. I could live with that. But at my most recent medical visit, a nurse reported my height as 5′½″! I commented that this made me even more overweight than I thought (my BMI is still well under 25, but my belly makes me too “fat” to wear clothes well).
Apparently my doctor’s office is not alone in defining “waist” in this bizarre way. WebMD offers these instructions for measuring the waist: “Start at the top of your hip bone, then bring the tape measure all the way around your body, level with your belly button.” The website verywellfit says, “Waist circumference is a measurement taken around the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus (belly button)” and instructs you to “wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your stomach, across your belly button.” But most definitions and illustrations online describe or show “waist” as I understand it.
I plan to take this matter up with my primary care physician at my next wellness visit. If they are required to measure around my navel level, then that’s what they will have to do, but they should not call it a “waist” measurement because, at least to my mind, that is not what a waist is.