Every individual is built a little differently. We have different genetics, lifestyles, habits, and preferences, which, among other things, lead to varying body shapes and fitness levels.
Furthermore, most people have to deal with hectic schedules and stressful days, often making their health and fitness take a back seat.
While it is okay to not have a six-pack, you might have to reassess your lifestyle if you are nearing a 40-inch waist.
Why is that, you ask?
A waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men and greater than 35 inches for women is considered elevated and indicative of increased cardiometabolic (heart disease-related) risk. 
An inflated waist is an indication of obesity and raises your risks of contracting health issues like heart disease, diabetes, dyslipidemia, triglycerides, high blood pressure, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a man with a waistline of more than 40 inches or a woman with 35 inches might be at an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Furthermore, your waistline is one of the three key measures of your overall health. Body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio are the other two.
BMI is a rough measure of your body fat, which can be measured by dividing your weight by the square of your height or by using our convenient online BMI calculator.
On the other hand, your waist-to-hip ratio helps show how much weight you carry on your hips, thighs, and buttocks, which can be ascertained by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
Notably, a 2011 study found that waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio have a more direct link to health conditions than BMI. 
Average Waist Size for Men and Women in the U.S.
As mentioned above, waist size above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is considered elevated.
Now, you’re probably thinking a very small percentage of the American population might be over the 35 (women) and 40-inch (men) waist size, right? Wrong!
Per a 2021 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average waist size of a woman in the United States is 38.7 inches. The men aren’t fairing any better. The same study pegs the waist circumference of an average adult American male at 40.5 inches. 
Interested in learning some more stats? Below are the average height, weight, and waist circumference for American adults aged 20 and over —
- Height: 69.0 inches (5’7″)
- Weight: 199.8 pounds (90.6 kilograms)
- Waist circumference: 40.5 inches
- Height: 63.5 inches (5’3″)
- Weight: 170.8 pounds (77.5 kilograms)
- Waist circumference in inches: 38.7 inches
Let’s pause here for a second and take a step back. Try to picture a man and woman as per the stats you just read. A 200-pound five-foot-seven guy with a 40.5-inch waist and a 170-pound five-foot-three lady with a 38.7-inch belly.
I’m all for body positivity, but these numbers don’t makeup aesthetically appealing bodies, at least from a competitive bodybuilding perspective.
Related: 19 Inspirational Fitness Models on Instagram
Causes of a 40-inch Waist
Lifestyle choices and unhealthy habits are arguably the biggest causes behind a 40-inch waist. Plus, a larger waist circumference is often caused by intra-abdominal visceral fat.
Visceral fat, also known as hidden fat, develops between and around internal organs. Additionally, fat stored in the belly is the most dangerous type because it coats vital organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines.
Visceral fat is different from the other type of fat that sits under your skin that can be pinched. The fat wrapped around your organs is highly inflammatory and can cause long-term damage.
Related: How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle
Benefits of a 40-inch Waist
A large belly has the following benefits —
- Fat cells work like energy stores that help you power through your day. However, excess fat is stored as body fat.
- Fat secretes hormones that can play a part in response to infection, inflammation, and injury, among other things.
- Stored fat cells secrete adiponectin — a protein hormone that improves insulin sensitivity and lowers the risk of atherosclerosis and diabetes. However, adiponectin production goes down as your stored fat levels increase.
Must Read: 9 Common Reasons Why You Can’t Seem To Lose Body Fat
40-inch Waist and Health Issues
This section might come as a rude shock, but it’ll prove that sporting a 40-inch waist does more harm than good.
40-inch Waist and Heart Disease
A 2010 study found that waist size and BMI can indicate your risk of heart disease. Furthermore, CDC data reveals one in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. 
40-inch Waist and Diabetes
A 2015 study revealed that waist circumference is a better predictor of type 2 diabetes risk than BMI, especially for women. 
40-inch Waist and Stroke
A 2017 study concluded that men with abdominal adiposity (large waist and waist-to-hip ratio) were at the highest risk of having a stroke in their lifetime. 
40-inch Waist and Inflammation
Research suggests that people with larger waist circumferences have higher levels of chronic inflammation. Inflammation in the body can contribute to arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer, depression, etc. 
40-inch Waist and Mortality
Finally, let’s talk about the mortality rates. A review of studies suggests that, over nine years, men with a 43-inch waist or higher had a 50 percent greater risk of death than those with a 37-inch waist.
On the other hand, women with a 37-inch waist had an 80 percent higher risk of death than those measuring 27.5 inches. 
How To Measure Your Waist?
Many people confuse their pant size with their waist size. What size pants you wear can differ from your tummy circumference. Some folks wear their pants higher on their torso, while others, especially some rappers, prefer them lower, closer to (or on) their hip bones.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to measure your waist correctly —
- Stand upright with a shoulder-width stance.
- Place a tape measure around your ilium (your body’s middle). It should be between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.
- Measure yourself with a natural-fitting measure. The tape shouldn’t be too tight or loose.
- Record the number on the tape.
- For best measure, repeat the process thrice and average the results.
- Do not suck in your gut while measuring your waist. Keep a neutral posture.
- Make sure your abdomen is clear of any clothing that might skew the measurement.
- While measuring the circumference of your waist, the tape measure should be parallel to the floor. It shouldn’t be slanting downward or upward.
How To Get a Smaller Waist?
Shedding body fat is easier said than done. However, here is an oversimplified way of losing those extra inches —
- Determine your daily calorie intake goal as per your goal body weight. You also need to ensure you eat nutrient-dense whole food to meet your daily caloric needs.
- Be on a calorie deficit, meaning you need to be burning more calories than you eat in a day.
- Drink at least a gallon of water every day.
- Add LISS (low-intensity steady-state) or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) cardio to your routine.
- Do not compromise on rest and recovery.
When to talk with a pro?
If you’re over the 40-inch waist mark and facing weight-related health issues, you could talk to a healthcare provider, personal trainer, or dietician to improve your physical fitness.
Can different people have different waist shapes?
Yes. People with an apple-shaped physique (more fat storage around the belly) have higher health risks than people with a pear-shaped body, where fat usually settles more around the hips.
What does a 40-inch waist look Like?
Irrespective of your gender, a 40-inch waist will make you stand out amongst normal-weight BMI individuals. If you’re a bodybuilding aficionado you might be aware of the infamous bodybuilder’s gut. Pro bodybuilders’ expanded bubble guts might measure around 40 inches. Remember, the taller you are, the smaller your 40-inch waist will look.
Are there any health issues or disadvantages linked to a 40-inch waist?
Besides the health issues mentioned above, a 40-inch waist can cause conditions like sleep-disordered breathing.
Your health and fitness levels can’t be assessed by a single measurement, factor, or size. You need to follow a holistic health approach to maintain your overall health.
To function optimally, make sure you’re eating right, taking proper rest, and exercising regularly. And remember, mental health is as important as your physical health.
- Ross, R., Neeland, I.J., Yamashita, S. et al. Waist circumference as a vital sign in clinical practice: a Consensus Statement from the IAS and ICCR Working Group on Visceral Obesity. Nat Rev Endocrinol 16, 177–189 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-019-0310-7
- Czernichow, S et al. “Body mass index, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio: which is the better discriminator of cardiovascular disease mortality risk?: evidence from an individual-participant meta-analysis of 82 864 participants from nine cohort studies.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 12,9 (2011): 680-7. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00879.x
- Fryar CD, Carroll MD, Gu Q, Afful J, Ogden CL. Anthropometric reference data for children and adults: United States, 2015–2018. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 3(46). 2021.
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- Hajian-Tilaki K, Heidari B. Is waist circumference a better predictor of diabetes than body mass index or waist-to-height ratio in Iranian adults?. Int J Prev Med. 2015;6:5. Published 2015 Jan 15. doi:10.4103/2008-7802.151434
- Hu G, Tuomilehto J, Silventoinen K, Sarti C, Männistö S, Jousilahti P. Body Mass Index, Waist Circumference, and Waist-Hip Ratio on the Risk of Total and Type-Specific Stroke. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(13):1420–1427. doi:10.1001/archinte.167.13.1420
- Stepanikova I, Oates GR, Bateman LB. Does one size fit all? The role of body mass index and waist circumference in systemic inflammation in midlife by race and gender. Ethn Health. 2017;22(2):169-183. doi:10.1080/13557858.2016.1235681
- Cerhan, James R et al. “A pooled analysis of waist circumference and mortality in 650,000 adults.” Mayo Clinic proceedings vol. 89,3 (2014): 335-45. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.11.011
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