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Heart Disease Health Center

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Belly Fat in Heart Patients Raises Death Risk

Study Points Out Dangers of Having Fat Around the Waist

Dangers of Abdominal Obesity

A growing body of evidence suggests that fat that’s stored in the abdomen may elevate the risks for heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other metabolic problems, including polycystic ovary syndrome in women, which is a cause of infertility.

“Abdominal fat is known to be more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat, the fat under the skin,” says Lopez-Jimenez.

Belly fat produces inflammatory chemicals and releases free-fatty acids into the blood. It also contributes to insulin resistance.

“That’s a fat that has been linked to high blood pressure, has been linked to diabetes, abnormal cholesterol, triglycerides,” Lopez-Jimenez says. “People with more visceral fat also tend to accumulate more fat in the liver.”

Thicker Waistlines and Heart Disease

Researchers sifted through the medical literature to find studies that focused on measures of central obesity -- waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio -- and the risk of premature death in patients with heart disease.

Six studies, representing 15,923 patients from the U.S., France, Denmark, and Korea, were included in the final analysis.

The average age of study participants was 66. There were more men than women included in the study, 59% and 41%, respectively.

All participants had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, which was defined as a previous history of heart attack or a procedure to open blocked arteries, like angioplasty or heart bypass. The minimum follow-up was six months.

There were 6,648 people in the normal-weight group, which was composed of people with BMIs that ranged from 18.5 to 24.9.

There were 2,396 in the obese group, who had BMIs over 30.

Across the different studies, participants were followed from six months to 16 years, with the midpoint follow-up at 2.3 years; 5,696 people died.

After adjusting their data to control for the influence of other things known to influence death risk, like age, gender, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure, researchers found that those with the highest waist-to-hip ratios were, on average, about 70% more likely to have died during follow-up than those with less belly fat. Those with a high waist circumference were about 30% more likely to have died during follow-up.

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