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Hugh Wilson
15 November 2011 12:37 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor, MSN Him

Men: how fat are you really?

Men, how fat are you really? (© Stockbyte-Getty Images)

Your waist measurement can predict your risk of disease, but most men get it wrong.

Are you looking slim? Do you feel trim? If you can answer "yes" to both those questions then well done, you might be cutting your risk of contracting a range of serious diseases.

But we say "might" for a reason. A recent YouGov poll, commissioned by The British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK, found that many men wildly underestimate the size of their waistlines, a mistake that can have serious consequences for their health.

What did the poll find?

The headline finding is that most men underestimate the size of their waists by more than two inches, a figure that can mean the difference between a healthy size and one that puts you at increased risk of serious illness.

The researchers asked nearly 1,000 men to guess the size of their waists, and found the average guess was 35.8in, compared to the English average waist size of 37.9in.

Overweight man measuring waist (© Nico de Pasquale Photography-Flickr-Getty Images)

Underestimating the true size of your waist can potentially mean underestimating your risk of serious illnesses

The study also found that only 16% of men put their waist size at over 40in, when in reality over 30% of men are in this category. Far more men estimated they had a trimmer, healthier waistline of between 34in and 37in.

The worry is that, if men routinely underestimate the size of their waistlines, they may also routinely underestimate their risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. If they don't think they're at risk, they won't do anything about it.

"It's really important that people are honest with themselves about their weight and the health effects of any extra pounds," said Hazel Nunn of Cancer Research UK. "Being overweight or obese increases the risk of at least seven types of cancer. In the UK, the number of people who are overweight and obese could lead to 19,000 cases a year.

"After quitting smoking, keeping a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce your chances of getting the disease."

On MSN Him: banish your beer belly forever

Why waist size matters

You may have heard of Body Mass Index (BMI) and other measures of weight and obesity, but many doctors now believe that simple waist circumference is one of the most accurate predictors of your chances of contracting certain diseases.

That's because fat that is stored round our bellies tends to be more active and dangerous than the fat that sits just under the skin. So called intra-abdominal fat, which accumulates round internal organs and can lead to increased waist size, release toxic, inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to play a part in the development of heart disease and diabetes.

Doctor talking with male patient (© Comstock Images-Getty Images)

Doctors believe men are at increased risk of some cancers, heart disease and diabetes when their waist measures more than 37 inches

According to Diabetes UK, "fat cells around your middle work hard to pump out hormones and chemicals that can cause disease."

As evidence of that, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that waist circumference was "strongly" associated with an increased risk of death.

Doctors now say that men are at an increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes when they have a waist size above 37 inches, and enter a high-risk danger zone when their waist size strays above 40 inches.

That's what makes the results of this latest research so worrying, according to Tracy Parker, heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. "They [the results] suggest men might not know they are in the danger zone."

On MSN Him: obesity and men - know the facts

Be honest, be accurate

The survey also uncovered one reason why so many men get their waist measurement wrong. In a nutshell, we don't know how to take it.

Over 80% of the men surveyed didn't know where to measure to get the correct waist measurement. Around half incorrectly thought that measuring just above the hips would give an accurate reading.

Man on scales (© MIXA-Getty Images)

Being able to be honest about your waist size or weight, whatever the measurement, is the first step to achieving a healthier life

In fact, your waist is measured at the midpoint between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips.

So take your waist measurement, and be honest about the results. Don't pull your tummy in or pull the tape uncomfortably tight to take off an extra inch. There might be a shock in store, but in the long run honesty is still the best policy.

"Knowing you are at risk is the first step to taking action and making small lifestyle changes can sometimes be all it takes," said Deepa Khatri, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK. "This can be anything from taking the stairs at work to swapping your afternoon snack for a piece of fruit."

On MSN Him: simple fitness tests for men

Getting your waist measurement down is good for more than just your health, of course. Imagine how great you'll feel slipping back into your favourite skinny jeans for the first time in years.

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