If your waist is wider around than your hips, the federal government declared on Monday, your waist is too wide.
As part of its newly revised "dietary guidelines for Americans," the government for the first time issued guidance on something called "waist-to-hip" ratio.Fat carried in the abdomen, health experts believe, adds far more to the risk of heart disease than fat carried in the thighs or arms.
The federal government also officially endorsed an upper limit on dietary fat intake, recommending for the first time that Americans get no more than 30 percent of their calories from fat.
And it offered a new "health-based weight criteria" suggesting a little extra weight after age 34 doesn't add to disease risk.
The waist-to-hip ratio is easily checked, according to the guidelines:
- First measure your waist near your navel, without sucking in your stomach.
- Then measure your hips where they are largest.
- Divide the waist measure by the hips measure.
If the ratio approaches or exceeds one, "you've got a problem," in the words of Agriculture Department spokeswoman Betty Peterkin.
The recommendations came in a revision of the dietary guidelines, issued jointly by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services every five years since 1980.
Americans currently take in an average of 37 percent of calories from fat, and for many people the proportion is well over half. The American Heart Association first developed the 30 percent fat standard in 1968 and other groups came to agree, but only recently did the federal government fully endorse it.
Excess fat contributes to the risk of heart disease, the major killer of Americans.
The two departments also recommended for the first time that no more than 10 percent of calories be consumed in the form of saturated fat, the type of fat considered most likely to contribute to heart disease risk. That too has been a standard recommendation from health organizations.
Among other guidelines, the federal government urged consumers to eat at least two servings of fruit each day, at least three servings of vegetables and at least six servings of grain products such as breads, cereals, pasta and rice. A serving might be as little as a 6-ounce glass of juice, a slice of bread or a half-cup of cooked beans or greens.
Previously, the guidelines counseled consumers to "avoid too much" sugar and sodium. The message this year was switched to "use sugars (or salt and sodium) only in moderation," prompting some consumer groups to charge that the guidelines had been weakened.
But Malden Nesheim, a Cornell University scientist and chairman of the expert committee that advised the government on the guidelines, said the words were changed merely because the word "avoid" suggested to some consumers that they should eat absolutely no sugar or salt.
Two recommendations - that consumers eat a variety of foods and drink alcoholic beverages, if at all, only in moderation - were unchanged from the 1985 guidelines.
"These important guidelines can make all the difference between good health and illness, between long life and premature death," HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan said at a press conference. "The guidelines are the keys to healthier longer life, and Americans who ignore them do so at their own peril."
The government's suggested weights were adapted from research conducted in the late 1980s by the National Research Council. That council concluded that "people can be a little heavier as they grow older without added risk to health," and suggested two weight standards, based not on on sex but on age.
Either men or women who are 5 feet 6 inches, for example, should weigh from 118 to 155 pounds between the ages of 19 and 34 years and then from 130 to 167 pounds beginning at age 35, according to the tables.
The new tables are based on "weights believed to be the most appropriate in terms of health and disease outcome," said Peterkin, the USDA spokeswoman.
USDA Secretary Clayton Yeutter said the new guidelines would be useful in designing school lunches and other institutional meals and would be applied to food products by the commercial food industry as well.