In reality, one-size-fits-all charts for weight and health risks aren’t always helpful. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

However, waist sizes can assist you to find out if you’re at danger for potential health issues, including conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Although you shouldn’t stake your idea of health on any one number, it’s essential to understand what these numbers can mean and when it might be time to take action to change them.

The average height of a U.S. woman is 63.6 inches, or 5 feet 3 inches. The average weight for women is around 170 pounds. With these measurements, the typical American woman wears a large to extra large pant size, or between a size 18 and 20.

Average waist sizes vary by age, as well. For example:

Age Waist size in inches
20 to 30 37.1
40 to 59 39.4
60 and over 39.9
Averages for U.S. teen girls

QUICK LOOKAverages for teen girls in the United States:

  • Waist size: 32.6 inches
  • Pant size: Medium to large
  • Dress size: 12

For adolescents and teenage girls, ages 13 to 19, the average waist size is 32.6 inches. This is the equivalent of a medium or large pant size, or about a size 12.

Teen girls’ waist sizes increase every year, with one exception: Around age 18, it falls slightly. However, it increases the following year, at age 19.

Age Waist size in inches
13 30.3
17 33.4
18 33.3
19 34.1

Individual waist measurements won’t tell you much about your health or any potential health risks. Nevertheless, there are threshold measurements at which risks for a variety of health problems increases. These measurements are:

Waist measurement Risk level
> 31.5 inches increased
> 34.6 inches substantially increased

Likewise, your waist-to-height ratio can help you understand if you’re at risk for any health issues because of your waist size. To get this percentage, divide your waist in inches by your height in inches, and then multiply by 100.

Waist-to-height ratio Risk level
< 42 percent underweight
42 to 48 percent healthy weight
49 to 57 percent overweight
> 58 percent obese

Example:

If you’re 67 inches (5 feet 7 inches) tall and your waist size is 32 inches, your waist-to-hip-ratio is 47 percent. Here is the math:

  • 32 ÷ 67 = 0.47
  • 0.47 x 100 = 47%

That puts you in the healthy weight category. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.

Some healthcare providers and experts use the waist-to-height ratio because it could help them spot health risks at an earlier stage. It may be more helpful than traditional weight measurements, including body mass index (BMI) and weight alone.

It’s possible to have a healthy BMI and still have some excess fat around your stomach that could increase the risk of developing certain diseases. Likewise, a BMI may indicate a potential health risk when your waist-to-height ratio and other measurements don’t.

How to measure your waist

The part of your body a healthcare provider considers your true waist may be different from the part of your body you consider your natural waist.

Every person’s natural waist is a point of personal preference. Some wear clothes higher on their torso, while others prefer the lower, closer to their hip bones.

But to understand your true waist circumference, you’ll need to measure yourself at the same spot every time. To do that, follow these rules:

  • Stand upright with your feet firmly planted shoulder-width apart.
  • Place a tape measure around your middle, midway between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips. This is called the ilium.
  • Exhale, and then measure yourself with a natural-fitting measure. Don’t tighten it too much, and don’t let excess tape hang around your hips.
  • You can repeat this three times and average the results if they vary.

A Note About Waist Size

Your health isn’t determined by one number. One measurement, score, or size won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not you’re healthy.

Wellness is a mix of many elements of well-being, from mental health and physical activity to, yes, weight and waist measurement.

But don’t let the idea of reaching a specific number whether that’s a number on the scale or a number on a tape measure drive any particular behaviors for you.

These numbers are meant to be guideposts, and they should help you shape your outlook and healthy-living goals. However, understand that many people with healthy BMIs can be quite unhealthy, and some people with larger waist circumferences will be exceptionally healthy.

The right measurement for someone else isn’t the right measurement for you. This is especially true if you ever compare yourself to models or individuals in television, movies, and media.

Such comparisons can set unhealthy expectations. If you set out to change your measurements based on how someone else looks, you may find yourself ill, or worse. Your body, your health, and your well-being are your own.

While waist measurements and other numbers may not always indicate a health problem, they can serve as cues for knowing when it’s time to make a bigger investment in your health.

A great deal of research has connected some measurements, including waist circumference, to increased risks for health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

If you’re interested in lowering your risk for these conditions and reducing your waist size, these resources may help:

  • A personal trainer. You may not need the supervision of a fitness trainer for very long, but if you’re new to exercise or need a structured routine to get going, you can hire a personal trainer to help. These trained experts can design plans that meet your needs, as well as any physical concerns you may have.
  • A healthcare provider. This person can take baseline measurements of such health indicators as your cholesterol levels and blood pressure to see if changes happen over time. These numbers may indicate improvement, even when you can’t see the changes.
  • A dietitian. A registered dietitian is a professional who can help you shape a healthy-eating plan. They can calculate the number of calories you should aim for in a day, given both your health and the intended exercise level. They can also help you address other health factors, including hydration and necessary supplements.