Excess fat around the abdomen - a high waist-to-hip ratio - is strongly associated with Syndrome X. It is a cluster of symptoms that signal elevated risk for both heart disease and diabetes: high blood pressure, resistance to insulin, and high levels of cholesterol and other fat in the blood. This is why doctors are more concerned when an overweight person has a large belly rather than big hips and thighs.
Are you at risk for Syndrome X? To find out, first measure your waist. Some people have an obvious waistline. If yours isn't clear, find the smallest circumference between the upper part of your hipbone and the lowest part of your rib cage on your side, and measure that. The tape should be neither tight nor loose. Women are at elevated risk if their waist is 35 inches or larger.
If your waist is less than 35 inches, you'll need to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio to assess your risk. Measure the widest point on your hips. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
< Favorable: Waist-to-hip ratio less than .80
< Borderline: Waist-to-hip ratio between .80 and .85
< Unfavorable: Waist-to-hip ratio above .85, or waist 35 inches or larger
Though there's a strong genetic component to body shape, aerobic exercise and weight loss can decrease waist size and the waist-to-hip ratio.