Homeโ†’Health Newsโ†’“Healthy” Waist May Be Larger For Black Women

“Healthy” Waist May Be Larger For Black Women

So… let’s take a look at what we have here:

(Reuters Health) – The definition of a ‘healthy’ waistline may have a bit more wiggle room for African-American women than for white women, a new study suggests.

As it stands, men are considered to have abdominal obesity when their waistline tops 40 inches; for women, the threshold is 35 inches. Abdominal obesity, in turn, raises a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Another way to look at the weight-health question is through body mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight in relation to height. People with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese, and they generally have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease than thinner people.

But in the new study, researchers found that African-American women might have somewhat higher thresholds for a risky waist size and BMI.

For the study, reported in the journal Obesity, researchers tried to estimate the BMI and waist size that best separated people at relatively high risk for diabetes and heart disease from those at lower risk.

High risk in this case meant having two or more risk factors for those diseases — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or elevated blood sugar.

For white women and men of both races, a BMI of about 30 was the threshold — the same as the standard value. But among black women, it was 33.

The same pattern was seen when it came to waist size. For men and white women, the waistline thresholds in this study were close to the 40-inch and 35-inch standards, respectively.

Among African-American women, however, the “high-risk” waistline was slightly more than 38 inches — 3 inches larger than the standard threshold.

That suggests that the average black woman can be heavier than her white counterpart before her risk for heart disease and diabetes start to climb dramatically.

Still, more research is needed to show that, according to lead researcher Dr. Peter T. Katzmarzyk, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He explained that this study looked at participants at point in time only, and studies following people over time — looking at how different levels of obesity predict the odds of developing heart problems and diabetes — are now necessary.

“We do not want to make too many practical implications at this point,” Katzmarzyk told Reuters Health in an email.

He also stressed that the findings do not mean that African-American women with a BMI below 33 or a waistline under 38 inches have “no risk” of obesity-related health problems.

“What the study does show is that there is a strong relationship between obesity and risk factors in white and African-American men and women,” Katzmarzyk said. “This relationship is robust in all groups, so no one is immune from the effects of obesity.”


By | 2017-06-10T11:29:04+00:00 November 13th, 2013|Health News|32 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and crtified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because lol why not.


  1. Danielle February 4, 2011 at 4:21 PM - Reply

    I would need to read the study in its entirety before I can comment. There were studies to show that AA’s have heavier bone density and are more apt to be muscled so if you take a WW and a BW with the same measurements, the BW will weigh more.
    BMI takes into account your weight, but not racial factors so it can be reasoned that AAs can be heavier (and therefore have a higher BMI) but not have as high a risk of obesity related issues.
    That said, I feel that it can be used as a crutch for some. You know kinda like ‘im big boned I dont need to lose weight’.
    But also I think things like BMI needs to take account proven differences in race, gender etc

    • Jas February 4, 2011 at 11:09 PM - Reply

      I agree and I also read a study about black women being more muscle dense than white women.

      I’m sure that this most recent study has validity, but my fear is that some may use it to excuse obesity. We have life threatening issues with weight and health within our race and I believe this study is helpful in changing the way we view health (please abolish BMI) and makes it easier for women to make healthy decisions about weightloss and fitness (sometime you have to ignore the scale). As far as a larger waist being ‘healthier’ for us, it depends on the individual.Personally, there’s only a 10lb differnce now, as a size 10, than when I was a size 18 (yeah weight training!) and this study falls in line with what I’ve seen and experienced getting fit.
      Bottom line, I hope more women use this study to help themselves get fit mentally and ignore the fads and social pressure of ‘dropping pounds’ and realize there is more to health than the numbers on the scale.

    • JaydensMOM January 14, 2013 at 12:09 PM - Reply

      I hope we don’t, like you said, use this as a crutch.

      I really think that body FAT composition is a great tool. After a body fat test I found that if I lose the fat that I need to and retain/gain muscle, I will be at a healthy /athletic 19% body fat when I get down to 195 lbs at 5’9″. Yes, 195. According to the BMI chart I would STILL be overweight with a 28.8 BMI. It’s really time to rethink the scale.

  2. Danielle February 4, 2011 at 4:24 PM - Reply

    My doctor told me something like this a few years ago from her personal observations. I’m 5’9″ and the recommended weight for me is around 150. I freaked out because I would look SICK at 150. My doctor told me that Black women simply can’t go by those standards because when they were made, they didn’t have us in mind. I’m glad that some research is going into this ^_^

  3. Curvy Duva February 4, 2011 at 4:30 PM - Reply

    From where I stand as a public health practitioner. I believe that these types fo studies should have been conducted a long time ago. Because each race’s gentic makeup is totally different it is not unreasonable to think that the standards used to determeine “healthyness” should be different as well.

    • Nicole June 30, 2011 at 6:58 PM - Reply

      “each raceโ€™s gentic makeup is totally different”

      We are not all exactly the same, but that is a really wild statement. Have you studied genetics? I want to say more, but that’s really off-topic. I just couldn’t let this slide though.

      • Jem July 5, 2011 at 9:27 AM - Reply

        Ok, Nicole? Thank you, I was thinking the same thing.

        That said, I think this deserves more investigation. Interesting results.

  4. Tracy February 4, 2011 at 7:48 PM - Reply

    I think these findings are a gift and a curse. Though we all already know that BMI alone is somewhat of a crock, I’m glad that it was addressed that Black women won’t necessarily fall into the traditional ranges set forth by the scale. HOWEVER, I’d hate for Black women to hang their hats on that. I’d hate for them to do a happy dance, shout “We told you so!” and think they have “wiggle room” to let their waistlines expand. Some women may decide to use this as an excuse to or reason for being heavier. Interesting study, nonetheless.

  5. Veronica February 4, 2011 at 8:38 PM - Reply

    Agreed with Danielle above.

    I once visited with a doctor who told me I needed to get down to 125 pounds. O_O I was 125 pounds in seventh grade, and I was LEGIT skinny, and this was before my body really started developing. (Needless to say, I didn’t visit that doctor again.)

    I WHOLLY believe the traditional studies on weight, body size, etc., are extremely Western-centric with not many black folk in mind. I know plenty of black women who have tiny waistlines and washboard abs (behold, the world of dancers), but their arms, backsides and legs are still muscular and “thick.” So yeah, I think this research is a step in the right (and more realistic) direction.

  6. Daphne February 6, 2011 at 2:12 AM - Reply

    I don’t quite understand the perception that this study would cause black women to be less diligent about their health (or rather, less than they already are). Is there really a significant difference between a 35 inch waist and a 38 inch waist? To the extent that a black woman would think, “Watch out now! I got three inches of wiggle room – time to splurge on some cake! I can eat whatever I want!” I’m just gonna ignore the BMI comparison, since I have serious issues with it as a indicator of health.

    I don’t know – black women who have been conscientious about their health may breathe a sigh of relief over the wiggle room, but the woman with serious weight (and possibly health) issues is likely nowhere close to a 38 inch waist ANYWAY. And those who have distorted mentalities about their size and health had them before this singular study came out.

    I do think this study reinforces the fact that, at least in the United States, black women and white women don’t have parallel existences when it comes to health and weight. We never have, so it’s troubling to me, when I read, with increasing frequency on other sites, how black women need to get their game tight like white women (or even Asian women to a lesser degree). Thank GOODNESS Erika has never fallen for the okey-doke in that regard.

  7. Holly July 24, 2011 at 12:25 PM - Reply

    My first thought upon reading this post was that the sample size of Afro-American women was probably much lower than the sample size of Euro-American women; however after looking at the abstract for the study I see this is not the case (1789 AA women vs. 1096 EA women). I think that I would have to see at least one or two more corroborating studies before I gave this study too much weight. I’m really glad they’re finally researching medical differences between the sexes and at least two races; I hate thinking that most of the information we get about health are based off studies of primarily white men.

  8. Crystal September 29, 2011 at 9:18 AM - Reply

    I think this makes perfect sense. Remember, the rules are already slightly different for Asian women as their waist size should be smaller than the average study so why wouldn’t it make sense for african american women to be larger. I can already see that my body frame is larger than a majority of women of other ethnicities and I know for a fact that I way far more than I look just because of how my body is built. I am happy to see studies that are beginning to recognize the differences in body makeup between races. Maybe now we will all begin to engage in healthier practices and strive towards weight loss goals that are healthy and appropriate for our unique body types.

  9. Jewel November 14, 2011 at 5:38 PM - Reply

    Hmmm I am not sure what to make of the study. I think everyone needs to be working toward being as healthy as they can. I don’t want to make any excuses for my weight/BMI because someone told me I was ok.
    As I recall, no one ever told me my weight was a problem when I technically was overweight for the past ten years.
    I think we have to take our health into our own matters.
    Thanks for all you do Erika.
    Jumps off soapbox ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. V July 10, 2012 at 9:49 AM - Reply

    This is confusing because it seems that we are the ones getting diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure at faster rates. First we do not benefit from exercise, now its black women can have larger waistlines. The larger the waistline means you are prone to more diseases. I think that these studies are pushing for black women to be unhealthy. I do not think we have a more muscle mass than other ethnic groups.

    • Shani Nicole October 2, 2012 at 2:59 PM - Reply

      BW are more prone to disease because of habits, I can understand how the study came up with it’s findings but you have to look at diet as well as other cultural factors.

    • Patricia August 30, 2015 at 9:30 AM - Reply

      That’s because a lot of us..eat foods based on taste and not nutrition. We need to educate ourselves on the importance of eating healthier.

Leave A Comment