Bigger Waist Increases Mortality Risk Especially Among Women

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Having excess abdominal girth, also called intra-abdominal obesity or an “apple” shape, has long been associated with chronic disease states, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Most of the time, study participants with larger waist circumferences have also had high body mass indexes, or BMI’s, indicating they were overweight or obese. A new study has found that having excess belly fat, even if weight and BMI are normal, is linked with an increased risk of dying prematurely.

The prospective study, conducted by Eric J. Jacobs PhD of the Epidemiology Research Program of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, included more than 100,000 men and women over the age of 50 (average age around 68). Waist measurements were self-reported in 1997, and researchers tracked the participants until 2006. Abdominal obesity was defined as having a waist circumference of greater than 88 centimeters (35 inches) for women and 102 centimeters (40 inches) for men.

Read: Normal Weight Obesity, Thin But Too Fat?

Among men with a normal BMI, defined as 18.5 to 24.9, each 10 centimeter increase in waist circumference raised mortality risk by 16%. For women, each 10 cm increase increased the risk by 25%. Among the obese, those with “extreme waist circumferences”, 110 cm or more in women and 120 cm or more for men, had more than double the mortality risk compared with those with an normal waist measurement.

The associations with waist circumference were strongest for mortality caused by respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

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Excess weight around the abdomen is strongly correlated with fat deposited around the internal organs (visceral fat) which is thought to be more pathogenic than subcutaneous adipose tissue, wrote the authors. The issue is critical, they added, because more than half of men and 70% of women age 50 to 79 in the United States exceed the recommendations for waist circumference.

"Even if your weight is considered normal for your height, keeping your waist size is important for your health," Jacobs said. "So if you notice your waist size increasing over time, it's time to start eating better and exercising more."

Read: Exercise Eliminates Harmful Effects of Belly Fat

Daily moderate-intensity exercise is the best way to lose abdominal fat. Adults should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week of walking, running, bicycling, aerobics, or another form of exercise that increases the heart rate. Strength training and core training are also important to build muscle tone, which in turn burns more calories at rest.

Diet also plays a very important role in reducing visceral fat. Increase intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and unsaturated fats and reduce consumption of refined grains, sugar and saturated fat.

Source reference
Jacobs EJ, et al "Waist Circumference and All-Cause Mortality in a Large US Cohort" Arch Intern Med 2010;170:1293-1301

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