Taller people tend to have larger bodies overall than shorter people, which means the taller you are, the larger your waist is likely to be. You can figure out if your waist size is within the healthy range for your height using the waist-for-height ratio. If you have a waist that's too large, it's a sign you may have too much of a dangerous type of fat surrounding your organs called visceral fat. This type of fat indicates an increased risk for breast cancer, gallbladder issues, types 2 diabetes and heart disease. (ref 6) For a more personalized assessment of your body size and associated health risks, you should speak to your doctor.
Recommended Waist Size for Height
A quick way to estimate whether your waist size is healthy is to divide your waist circumference in inches by your height in inches. People who had too large of a waist compared to their height were 11 times more likely to develop heart disease in a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2008. (ref 5)
The waist-to-height ratio is a better way to screen for an increased risk in heart disease than using either body mass index or waist circumference alone, according to a review article published in 2012 in Obesity Reviews. (ref 4) A healthy range for women is from 0.42 to 0.49, and for men, between 0.43 and 0.53. Anything below this is considered underweight, and anything higher than this is considered overweight. If you're a woman who's 5 feet, 4 inches tall, you should have a waist size of 27 to 31 inches; if you're a women who is 5 feet, 9 inches tall should have a waist measuring between 29 and 33 inches. (used ref 3)
Frame Size and Waist Size
One way height affects waist size is through its effect on frame size. Taller people tend to have larger frames than shorter people, and people with a larger frame will have a larger waist as well. That's why the waist-to-hip ratio is sometimes recommended over using the waist circumference alone. (ref 1) This measurement is calculated by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference -- anything over 0.8 for women or 0.95 for men indicates a higher risk of disease. (ref 7)
A quick way to estimate your frame size is to wrap your right index finger and thumb around your left wrist. If your fingers meet, you have a medium frame. Overlapping fingers indicate a small frame, and if your fingers don't touch, you have a large frame. Another method requires actually measuring your wrist. For example, men who are at least 5 feet, 5 inches tall have a medium frame if their wrist size is between 6.5 and 7.5 inches. (ref 2) If you've got a large frame, your waist is more likely to be on the higher end of the recommended range for your height.
Taking Proper Measurements
When taking your waist measurement, you need to do so at your natural waist. This is where your waist is smallest, not at the place where the distance around is largest. This is typically about halfway between your belly button and the start of your rib cage. The opposite is true when taking your hip measurement -- in this case, you'll want to place the tape around the widest part of your hips. Sometimes it helps to take a few measurements to find the most appropriate one. In either case, it's best to place the tape directly against the skin rather than measuring over clothing.
Tips for Shrinking Your Waist
Should your waist size be larger than recommended, you can take steps to shrink it. A combination of dietary changes, cardio and strength training is often the best way to go about this. Exercise is particularly important for getting rid of visceral fat, so aim for at least two strength training sessions per week and about 60 minutes per day of cardio to help you slim down. You'll also want to cut calories from your diet and eat 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than you burn to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Do this by eating less of fatty foods, sugary foods and refined grains while continuing to eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein foods. (ref 6)