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Belly Fat Increases Risk of Heart Disease in People with Normal Weight

Previous studies have demonstrated that central obesity or having a large waistline could increase one’s risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, but this was usually associated with people who were overweight or obese. A new study shows, however, that individuals of normal weight who carry excess fat in their belly have a higher death risk than obese individuals.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic led by Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, cardiologist, states that in their study they found that normal weight individuals had the highest death rate, compared to those who are considered obese based on BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat).

The study included more than 12,000 adults who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III),  a representative sample of the United States population. Body measurements such as height, weight, waist circumference and hip circumference, as well as socioeconomic status, existing medical conditions, physiological and laboratory measurements were recorded and analyzed. These data were matched to the National Death Index to evaluate deaths at follow up.

Participants were classified into three categories based on BMI (normal, overweight and obese) and two categories of waist-to-hip ratio (normal and high). Their analyses were adjusted for age, sex, race, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, blood cholesterol and baseline BMI. Volunteers with chronic lung disease and cancer were excluded.

After a follow up period of more than 14 years there were more than 2,500 deaths, more than 1,000 of which were cardiovascular-related. Analysis of data showed that participants with a normal BMI but with a high waist-to-hip ratio had the highest cardiovascular death risk and the highest death risk from all causes.

The researchers believe this may be related with increased insulin resistance and that health professionals need to educate patients about the importance of having a healthy weight and a normal weight-to-hip ratio.


European Society of Cardiology. Normal weight individuals with belly fat at highest CVD risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2012.

Posted in: Diabetes, Diet, Disease Prevention, Fats, Healthy Eating, Heart Health, Hypertension, News Briefs

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