While a little "junk in the trunk" is probably no reason for concern -- some research even shows large hips are healthy -- a wide waistline may indicate a higher risk of some scary illnesses. The good news is that even if your stomach is a bit too large for comfort, your midsection will likely be the first place to shrink with a sensible weight-loss plan.
Healthy Waist Size
For women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger may put you in the danger zone, according to Harvard School of Public Health. The problem is a substance called visceral fat, which lurks deep beneath your abdominal muscles. It's different than the subcutaneous fat just under your skin, emitting more inflammatory substances as well as a protein that increases insulin resistance, which may lead to diabetes. Higher levels of visceral fat are also linked to increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer and asthma.
Healthy Hip Size
If you've got a full caboose, here's some good news -- not only is hip size generally not used as an indicator for health risks like waist size is, but a larger derriere may even even help you live longer, according to a study published in the journal "Obesity Reviews" in 2011. Researchers found that people with narrower hips were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and also had a higher mortality rate than their more voluptuous counterparts. The results applied to both genders, although the effect on women was more pronounced.
The ratio of your waist size to your hip size may also be important in determining your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. If you have an apple shape, meaning you're wider in the middle than the hips, you could be at greater risk. If you have a pear shape, meaning your hips are larger than your waist, there's less reason for concern. To find your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For example, a woman with a 28-inch waist and 36-inch hips has a ratio of 0.77. A ratio of 0.85 or lower is considered healthy.
Achieving Healthy Measurements
Although you can't change your body type, you can help whittle your waistline by engaging in regular exercise and reducing calories for overall weight loss. Cardiovascular exercises like running and rowing are the most effective activities for shedding visceral fat, according to professor Kerry Stewart of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, as quoted by U.S. News and World Report. Harvard Medical School also notes that eating trans fats -- also called partially hydrogenated vegetable oils -- or foods sweetened with fructose are shown to increase belly size, so avoid these when possible.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.