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Waist Size Alone May Predict Diabetes Risk

Study Finds Waist Size Strongly Linked to Diabetes Risk, Especially in Women
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 5, 2012 -- Waist size can predict your diabetes risk, even if you are not obese, according to a new study.

Diabetes experts have long used both body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight related to height, and waist size to predict risk.

Obese people, with a BMI of 30 or more, and non-obese individuals with large waists are considered at higher risk.

Now, the new research finds that waist size alone predicts risk of diabetes, especially in women.

Some overweight men and women with very large waists have the same risk of diabetes as obese people, says researcher Claudia Langenberg, MD, PhD, of the Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, England. In BMI terminology, "overweight" is a step below "obese."

More doctors might consider using their tape measures, she tells WebMD.

"Our results now provide clear evidence that a simple measurement of waist circumference can identify overweight individuals (BMI 25-[29.9]) with a large waist, whose risk of future diabetes is equivalent to that of obese people," Langenberg tells WebMD.

A large waist is 35 inches or more in a woman and 40 inches or more in a man.

The findings are published in PLoS Medicine.

Waist Size, BMI, and Diabetes Risk

About 19 million Americans have diagnosed diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Most have type 2. The body does not make enough of the hormone insulin or the cells don't use it effectively.

Langenberg's team, the InterAct Consortium, re-evaluated data on more than 28,500 people.

They lived in eight European countries. They were in the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study. It looked at lifestyle and other factors, and chronic disease.

Langenberg compared about 12,400 people with type 2 diabetes with about 16,100 people without.

They looked at their waist and BMI data.

Among the findings:

  • Overweight women with a large waist (35-plus) and overweight men with a large waist (40-plus) had a 10-year incidence of diabetes similar to that of obese people.
  • Higher waist size and higher BMI were each linked with higher diabetes risk.
  • High waist size was a stronger risk factor for women than for men.
  • Obese men with a large waist (40-plus) were 22 times more likely to develop diabetes than men with a low-normal BMI (18.5-22.4) and a smaller waist (less than 37 inches).
  • Obese women with a large waist (35-plus) were nearly 32 times as likely to get diabetes than women of low-normal weight and a smaller waist (less than 31 inches).

"BMI measures overall adiposity and gives no information about fat distribution," Langenberg says.

Adiposity is a term used to represent fatness. Waist size reflects belly fat and fat around the internal organs, she says. That fat is strongly linked with type 2 diabetes.

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