By SSgt Todd Lopez, USAF

Washington, 10/30/03 - According to studies by the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Health, the waist measurement is a gauge for total health.

“The Air Force has adopted this waist measurement concept to determine visceral or intra-abdominal fat,” said Maj. Lisa Schmidt, noting that there is ample evidence linking an increase in visceral fat with an increase in risk for disease.

“When we looked at developing health-based standards, we reviewed a lot of literature of the best ways to predict health risks for members, and abdominal circumference kept surfacing,” Schmidt said. “With more abdominal fat, you have more risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.”

Air Force officials use two tables for measuring waists, one for males and one for females. There are no variations in regards to height or age.

Both male and female can perform the measurement on themselves by using a tape measure wrapped around the abdomen above the right iliac crest, or right above the top of the right hip bone, while ensuring the loop created by the tape remains parallel to the floor.

“The risk for disease is independent of your height,” Schmidt said. “Other things considered, if you are 5 feet 2 inches tall or 6 feet 2 inches tall, your risk for disease is the same if you have a 40-inch waist. This also applies with your age. If you are 20 years old or 50 years old, the risk is the same based on waist measurements.”

Unlike other body parts, the size of the waist does not grow proportionally with height.. “As you get taller, it isn't as if you grow out as well,” Schmidt said. “It is not proportional growth. The area you are measuring does not include any bone.”

While there is no variance allowed for height when it comes to waist measurements, it is important to consider the fitness evaluation as a whole in regards to the total-fitness score.

“When you look at the fitness score, it is a composite,” Schmidt said. “If you have a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old, both with a 39-inch waist, they are going to get the same points for abdominal circumference. However, that 20-year-old is going to have to run faster and do more crunches and more pushups to get the same composite score as the 50-year-old.”

There is hope for airmen who have measured their waists and determined they are not within an acceptable range. Visceral fat is generally the first to go when people begin an exercise program. While it may take several months of running, crunches and weight lifting to knock an inch or two off the waist circumference, that effort pays off in more than just the one or two points gained on the waist-measurement portion of the evaluation.

“A lot of airmen will look at the chart and say it is difficult to lose an inch in abdominal circumference, and that they only get a point for it,” Schmidt said. “But if you are engaged in some kind of program to lose that inch and to gain that point, some aerobic and fitness program, you will improve your performance on the running and strength portions. They are all interrelated. This is about total health.”

Airmen who look at the chart for the first time become fixated on the top numbers for their age group — those numbers needed to score a perfect 100 on the evaluation. They should concentrate instead on getting a “good” or “excellent” fitness score.

According to Schmidt, the expectation is not for most airmen to achieve a perfect score. The expectation is for everyone to participate in a regular fitness program, which results in improvements of overall health and well being.