Have you ever asked yourself "What is my body shape?"

Although you may think of yourself as ‘slim’ or ‘overweight’ or ‘curvy’, etc., everyone’s body is different, and where you store your fat is determined by genetic inheritance.

Girls will tend to resemble the body shape of their mothers, while boys will often have the same body shape as their father. There is nothing you can do to change this, but understanding your inherited body shape will help you decide on the most suitable kind of exercise, and could even indicate types illnesses you may be prone to in the future.

Through a healthy diet, and regular exercise, you can change your body composition (fat to muscle ratio) but your basic body structure cannot be altered. Knowing your inherited body shape allows you to make the most of what you have, and tailor your exercise regime to maximise results.

This article on body shape is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

There are two important ratios in body shape that indicate whether you’re at risk of being overweight or not:

  • Your waist to height ratio should be less than 0.5 (half)
  • Your waist to hip ratio should be less than 0.8 (women) or less than 1 in men

If you have ratios above these values, research suggests you could be at an increased health risk due to where you store fat on your body.

Apple and pear body shapes

Fat distribution is a strong indicator of whether you are, or will be, overweight. For example, if you tend to store your weight on your hips you’re considered to be “pear-shaped,” which is generally a healthy shape. If you’re more likely to store fat in your middle, around your abdomen you are “apple-shaped” which is generally considered to be a more unhealthy method of fat distribution, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

You can work out your own body shape with the Ashwell Shape Chart (see below), which was developed to show reliable health risks for different body shapes. Suitable for both men and women, you just need to know your waist and height measurements to find out what body shape you are. The different colours indicate what action you need to take about your weight, if any.

Brown: chilli shape – you are tall and thin, and although current popular opinion regards this to be an ideal body shape, the chart advises you to take care, as you could be underweight. This is not always desirable for good health and you may need to gain a bit of weight in the future.

Green: pear shape – you store excess fat around your hips, thighs, and bottom, just under the skin, and are classified as having a healthy body shape. Illness and disease are not generally associated with pear-shaped bodies.

Yellow: small apple shape – you tend to store excess fat around your middle, and although you may not be overweight at the moment, you should take care not to put on any extra weight.

Red: large apple shape – you are most likely overweight, storing fat deep under the skin around your stomach, and are regarded as an unhealthy body shape. Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, raised blood pressure, and some types of cancer are increased. The chart indicates that your health may be at risk and you are advised to talk to your GP about losing weight.

Ashwell Shape Chart

To find the answer to the question "What is my body shape?", trace a horizontal line across the chart at the level of your height, and a vertical line up from your weight measurement. The point at which the two lines meet gives you your position on the chart, indicating which body shape you are.

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