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Belly Fat Doubles Death Risk

Increase in Death Risk Not Limited to Overweight, Obese

Belly Fat Research continued...


  • Men and women with the largest waists (more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women) had roughly double the risk of premature death as men and women with the smallest waists (less than 34 inches for men and 28 for women).
  • Each 2-inch increase in waist circumference was associated with close to a 17% increase in mortality in men and a 13% increase in women.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio also strongly predicted mortality.

"The most important result of our study is the finding that not just being overweight, but also the distribution of body fat, affects the risk of premature death," Pischon says.

The findings come as no surprise to University of Michigan cardiologist and research scientist Daniel Eitzman, MD.

Work by Eitzman and colleagues in mice found that belly fat -- also known as visceral fat -- produces more inflammation than fat found in other areas of the body.

Inflammation is thought to play a key role in heart disease and a host of other chronic diseases.

Eitzman tells WebMD that measurement of waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio are important for assessing the risk of inflammation-driven disease.

"Studies like this focus attention on the importance of measuring visceral fat, which is not now routinely done in clinical practice," he says.

Are You an Apple or a Pear?

So how do you tell if you have more belly fat than is healthy?

  • To measure your waist circumference, place a tape measure around your waist at the smallest point, which is usually just above the navel. A waist size of 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women is generally considered to indicate increased health risk.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by measuring your waist at the smallest point and your hips at the widest point -- usually at the widest part of the buttocks -- and dividing the waist measurement by the hip measurement. A waist-to-hip ratio of greater than 0.9 for men and 0.8 for women is generally considered high risk.
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