Waist Size Indicates Heart Risk

Large Waistlines Raise Risk of Dying From Heart Disease, Stroke

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 15, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 15, 2005 (Dallas) -- Get out your tape measure! Your waist size can offer valuable information about your risk of dying of heart disease or stroke in the next decade -- beyond that provided by traditional risk factors such as LDL cholesterol or whether you smoke, researchers report.

In a study of more than 33,000 men, every 2-inch increase in waist size raised the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by up to 17% over the next 10 years, independent of other risk factors.

"Knowing your waist circumference can enhance cardiovascular disease prediction," says researcher Radim Jurca, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.

Doctors who heard the results at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA) agree. Nieca Goldberg, MD, an AHA spokeswoman and heart specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says she routinely measures her patients' waistlines.

"But you can start by doing it at home and bringing the measurements into your doctor," she tells WebMD. "All you need is a tape measure."

Waist Size vs. Traditional Risk Assessment

The researchers studied 33,193 men who came to the Cooper Institute for heart-health checkups between 1979 and 2003.

Based on a traditional risk-assessment tool called the Framingham Risk Score that takes into account age, cholesterol, blood pressure, the presence of diabetes, and smoking status, the men were classified as having a low (less than a 10%), an intermediate (10% to 20%), or high (greater than 20%) risk of dying of heart disease over the next 10 years.

Then, depending on their waist size, they were divided into three groups: below 36 inches, 36 to 38 inches, or over 38 inches.

Over the next 10 years, 624 of the men died of heart disease and stroke.

"No matter which Framingham category a man was in at the start of the study, waist circumference enhanced its predictive value," Jurca says.

For example, people who were considered at low risk of dying based on the Framingham score alone actually faced a 12% increased risk if their waist circumference was over 39 inches. People who were at intermediate risk based on a Framingham score were at 24% increased risk of dying if their waist size bulged over 39 inches.

Men and women with abdominal obesity -- defined as men with waistlines over 40 inches and women with waistlines over 35 inches -- may already be on the road to diabetes or heart disease.

But many studies, including this one, suggest those values may be too high, Goldberg says. "In this case, less is better."

Show Sources

SOURCES: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2005, Dallas, Nov. 13-16, 2005. Radim Jurca, PhD, exercise physiologist, Cooper Institute, Dallas. Nieca Goldberg, MD, AHA spokesperson; heart specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City.

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