Size and Shape — Performance, Health and Appearance

Size and shape of the human body can determine, limit and enhance performance in sports. Obviously basketball players who are taller have an advantage over shorter players of similar athletic ability. Player positions have specific size advantages within a sport, such as football, where linemen have the advantage of height and weight over smaller linemen.

Size and shape can also be predictive in health matters. Abdominal fat is considered more dangerous than fat carried below the hips and on the legs.

Appearance is often the first impression that generates how others perceive — right or wrong — a person’s success and capabilities. Exercise can help reduce body fat and improve body contours by developing muscles, prompting complements such as you are “in shape,” “buff,” “cut,” “ripped,” or “lean and mean.” Individuals use fitness exercises to shape the body and also turn to cosmetic surgery to contour areas that are too difficult or too time consuming to modify with exercise alone. Cosmetic surgery, as defined by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is a subspecialty of medicine and surgery that uniquely restricts itself to the enhancement of appearance through surgical and medical techniques. Plastic surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons is a specialty that is dedicated to cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery.


Women who gain weight around their middle–the classic apple shape–are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer.

Women who gain weight around their buttocks, hips, and thighs–the pear shape–are more susceptible to osteoporosis.

More on this topic in the book Apples & Pears: The Body Shape Solution to Weight Loss and Wellness by Dr. Marie Savard.

The most dangerous fat is intra-abdominal fat or visceral fat which can be harmful since it increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. It’s also linked to high cholesterol, high insulin, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and other problems.

Men whose waists are greater than 40 inches and women whose waists are greater than 35 inches are considered at a definite risk, and some individuals with smaller waistlines may also be at risk.

Size is quantified by several methods, including Body Mass Index (BMI), Height/Weight Tables, and Waist/Hip Ratio (WHR). More information on BMI and Height/Weight Tables is available on the Obesity Overview page.

A simple check on your own …

  1. Measure the narrowest part of your waist to determine your waist circumference.
  2. Measure around your hips–about three or four inches below your pelvis bone.
  3. Divide your waist circumference by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio, or WHR.

What your measurement means:

  • A WHR > 0.80 means you are apple-shaped.
  • A WHR ≤ 0.80 means you are pear-shaped.

Peripheral Fat May Be Good
Research by lead researcher Laszlo B. Tanko may be good to monitor. In one study — Novel associations … (below) — he recognized a possible protective effect of Peripheral Fat Mass (fat on arms and legs) fighting diabetes and atherosclerosis in elderly women.

Tanko LB, Bagger YZ, Qin G, Alexandersen P, Larsen PJ, Christiansen C. Enlarged waist combined with elevated triglycerides is a strong predictor of accelerated atherogenesis and related cardiovascular mortality in postmenopausal women. Circulation. 2005 Apr 19;111(15):1883-90.

Tanko LB, Bruun JM, Alexandersen P, Bagger YZ, Richelsen B, Christiansen C, Larsen PJ. Novel associations between bioavailable estradiol and adipokines in elderly women with different phenotypes of obesity: implications for atherogenesis. Circulation. 2004 Oct 12;110(15):2246-52. Epub 2004 Sep 27.