The director of the UK National Sizing Survey has described as "shocking" the results of the biggest ever survey of body size.

Data released this week shows that the average British waistline has increased by more than 6 inches since 1952, while hip and chest measurements have grown by about 1½ inches.

"We expected an increase, but the waistline has just exploded," said Philip Treleaven.

The study, backed by the department of trade and industry and a consortium or retailers including Marks & Spencer, GUS, N Brown and Redcats, used a 3D scanner to measure more than 11,000 people.

Each person had 130 body measurements taken by a computer scanner while another 25 measurements were collected by hand before the data was collected by Size UK for analysis.

The project will give the clothing retailers a clearer idea of what their customers look like and could lead to a change in sizing methods in an attempt to create better fitting clothes.

Retailers will also be able to use the data to identify areas in the UK where there is more likely to be demand for larger sizes.

When the last major size survey was carried out in the 1950s, the average British woman was 5ft 2in tall with a bust of 37 inches and hips of 39 inches. Her waist was just 27.5 inches.

Today's woman stands 5ft 4 in tall, with a 38-inch bust, measures 40.5 inches across the hips and a waist now measuring 34 inches.

The average man is 5ft 9.5in with a 42-inch chest and a 37-inch waist.