Appropriateness of Waist Circumference and Waist-To-Hip Ratio Cutoffs for Different Ethnic Groups

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jan;64(1):42-61. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.70. Epub 2009 Aug 12.


Current waist circumference (WC) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) cutoffs have been identified from studies of predominantly European-derived populations. However, these cutoffs may not be appropriate for other ethnic groups. This paper reviews the literature regarding ethnic differences in body composition and the appropriateness of ethnic-specific WC and WHR cutoffs in various ethnic groups. Studies investigating ethnic-specific cutoffs were identified among Aboriginal, Asian, African (Sub-Saharan), African-American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander and South American populations. Abstracts that recommended WC and/or WHR cutoffs (or rejected the use of cutoffs) were included with their supporting literature. The evidence for ethnic-specific WC and/or WHR cutoffs was then rated as either convincing, probable, possible or insufficient. The majority of studies recommending ethnic-specific cutoffs was for Asian populations. Few studies recommended cutoffs in Aboriginal, African (Sub-Saharan), Pacific Islanders and South American populations. All studies were cross-sectional, and the overwhelming majority of studies used receiver operating characteristic curves. The studies used a number of methods for assessing WC and WHR, and a variety of outcome measures, making cross-study comparison difficult. There is possible evidence that Asians should have a lower WC cutoff than Europeans. The evidence is insufficient for specific cutoffs for African-American, Hispanic and Middle Eastern populations but some studies indicate current cutoffs for Europeans may be appropriate, whereas there is insufficient evidence for the other ethnic groups. Future studies are needed to address the methodological limitations of the current literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition
  • Ethnic Groups*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Obesity, Abdominal / ethnology*
  • Reference Values
  • Waist Circumference*
  • Waist-Hip Ratio*