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What does your waist size say about your heart health?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
If your waist and hip ratio is too high, you may be at risk for heart disease.

Most of us have been conditioned by news and research findings to believe obesity raises the chances of heart disease.. But a new study shows normal weight people with increased waist size are at higher risk of dying than obese people.

If you're carrying some belly fat you may want to consider lifestyle changes that could lower your chances of dying from all causes, finds a new Mayo Clinic study.

Belly fat worse than obesity

According to the new finding, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Munich, having a high waist to hip ratio is worse than obesity for risk of dying from heart disease or any cause, perhaps because belly fat is known to contribute to insulin resistance and other health risks compared to fat in other parts of the body.

Senior author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester said in a press release, “This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on body mass index. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding.”

Even when weight was normal, researchers found risk of dying from having a high hip to waist ratio was 2.75 time higher than the risk for people with normal weight and waist to hip ratio. The chances of dying from any cause were 2.08 times higher.

Karine Sahakyan, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiovascular research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester explains fat that accumulates in the hips or thighs may have a protective effect on the body, unlike belly fat where there is less muscle mass.

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The finding comes from data collected from 2,785 people 18 and older from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Included were body measurements such as height, weight, waist circumference and hip circumference in addition to socioeconomic status, other health conditions, laboratory tests and other physiologic data that the researchers compared to National Death Index.

There were 2,562 deaths found in follow-up; 1,138 of which were heart disease related and linked to abdominal fat or central obesity, compared to people with a normal body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio.

Lopez-Jimenez says it’s important for people to know that just because their weight is normal it doesn’t mean they’re not at risk for heart disease.

If you want to know if you’re at risk, measure you’re your waist and hips and then divide your waist size by your hip measurement. Women should have a ratio of 0.85 or less and 1.0 or less for men.

Too much weight in the mid-section – or having an ‘apple’ versus a ‘pear shaped’ body has been previously linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. The newest study adds to past evidence that belly fat that increases waist to hip ratio may be a worse health risk than obesity.

Mayo Clinic
August 27, 2012

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