Did your mom or grandma ever measure your neck to see if your pants would fit? There is a wive's tale that claims that if you can wrap the width of the waist of your pants around your neck where a T-shirt collar falls, then the pants will fit. If the ends of the waistline don't meet at the back of your neck, the pants will be tight and if the waistline overlaps, the pants will be baggy. Given the fact that our bodies grow proportionally, this should work no matter what size you're neck is. If this wive's tale is true, what are its health implications?
Cracking the Myth
Since ancient times, people have tried to understand the proportions of the human body. Used by mathematicians, scientists and artists, the “golden ratio” -- approximately 1.618 -- is believed to be the equation that determines what is aesthetically pleasing. Leonardo da Vinci applied the golden ratio to many of his major works, including the Mona Lisa. The ancient Greeks used the golden ratio to determine specific proportions of the "ideal" male. One of these proportions is the correlation between waist circumference and neck circumference. Although the ideal Greek ratio is closer to 1.89, the golden ratio could, theoretically, apply. In this case, the circumference of your neck would be about the same as your pants width. In other words, your waist circumference would be about twice your neck circumference.
One thing that the ancient Greeks failed to take into account is that body proportions and shape are strongly influenced by genetics. There may be some correlation, but each human body is different. Bone structure and length, muscle development and the propensity to store body fat vary among races. These factors all affect body proportions. Furthermore, because our bodies adapt to the environment, different cultures may have different proportions. In the United States, the average neck size for women is 13.5 inches and for men, 19.5 inches. The average waist circumference for women is 37.5 inches and the average for men is 39.7 inches.
For years, doctors have understood that a larger waistline is an indicator of extra abdominal fat, which is a risk factor for heart disease. But a 2010 study published in the “Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism,” showed that neck circumference is also associated with cardiovascular risk factors, specifically blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes. The more fat you store in your neck, the greater your risk.
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How to Measure
It's best to place the tape measure against your skin and take the measurements at the end of your normal relaxed exhalation. To measure your neck circumference, look straight ahead and relax your shoulders. Wrap the tape measure around your neck just below the Adam’s apple (hyoid bone), parallel to the floor. To measure your waist, stand relaxed with your arms by your sides. Wrap the tape measure around the smallest part of your abdomen, parallel to the floor. This is usually midway between your navel and the base of your breastbone, in line with the elbow crease.
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Neck Circumference as a Novel Measure of Cardiometabolic Risk: The Framingham Heart Study
- Clinical Nutrition: Neck Circumference As A Measure of Central Obesity: Associations With Metabolic Syndrome and Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome Beyond Waist Circumference
- Department of Defense: Physical Fitness and Body Fat Programs Procedures
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Body Measurements
Cindy Killip is a health and fitness specialist, health coach, author and speaker who has been teaching and writing about exercise and wellness since 1989. She authored "Living the BONES Lifestyle: A Practical Guide to Conquering the Fear of Osteoporosis." Killip holds multiple certifications through the American Council on Exercise and degrees in communications and sociology from Trinity University.