Waist Weight: Why it's About More Than Squeezing Into Those Skinny Jeans

25/06/2012 15:16 BST | Updated 13/02/2015 09:59 GMT

Ladies, we're having some tummy trouble. If we're to cut our risk of diseases and health implications, like breast cancer and infertility, we need to lose some inches from our waists.

Nuffield Health, which is the largest healthcare charity in the UK, has analysed health data from more than 30,000 women who expressed a desire to get fitter and healthier and the results are causing much concern. The findings put the average waist measurement for women at almost 5cm larger than is healthy - experts recommend a waist circumference of less than 80cm and the average is 84.9cm. The majority of men across the country, on the other hand, measured in the healthy 'less than 94cm' range.

In combination with this, the average waist-to-hip ratio shows that we are well and truly a nation of apple-shaped women these days, rather than the healthier pear shape that traditionally dominated.

All of this means that we're storing fat - known as visceral fat - around our middles. This fat is more metabolically active, producing fatty acids - toxins that promote inflammation, and changing the balance of sex hormones in our blood and insulin levels. All these factors raise our risk of things like breast, womb and ovarian cancer, heart and liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Given that half the women whose data we analysed were at an age where they might be thinking about or trying to have children, infertility has also been highlighted as a particular worry. Fat stored around the waist causes disturbed ovarian function, irregular ovulation cycles and anovulation, all of which make getting pregnant much more difficult.

While we all know that keeping our weight under control and exercising and eating well is what will keep us fit and healthy, experts emphasise the importance of looking specifically at waist measurements because of their links to risks like these. We need a shift in mindset - too many women worry about whether they can get into their skinny jeans or not, but don't think about the wider implications.

One of the biggest concerns prompted by these new findings is that, while this is a huge sample, the data we looked at was from women who have taken at least a first step to becoming fitter and healthier by having a Health MOT. Unfortunately, we don't have equivalent data for all UK women but the worry is that wider-than-healthy waists could be even more prevalent nationwide.

While there is no magic solution - you need to take a holistic approach to becoming fitter and healthier through improving your diet and exercising regularly, there are some easy things we can do to reverse what seems to be a growing trend towards us becoming a nation of apples.

Avoiding foods and drinks which cause sugar levels to change too often, and can therefore increase our fat store around the stomach, is a good start. The white versions of carbohydrates we eat all the time - things like rice, bread and pasta - are particular culprits and should be swapped for their brown equivalents or lean proteins like turkey, chicken and salmon. You should also look at your caffeine intake, aiming for less than three cups of tea or coffee a day. In terms of exercise, aim for at least two and a half hours a week, with as much walking as possible on top of that.

It's important to keep an eye on how you're getting on with reducing your waist size - measure it every few weeks with a measuring tape to make sure that action you're taking is working. If you have any particular concerns about your waist size - or any health problem - visit your GP.

Advice from our nutritionists and personal trainers on how to get your waist measurement into the healthy range is available at