Waist, Hips May Predict Heart Disease

The Measuring Tape May Beat the Scale at Gauging Heart Disease Risk

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 10, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 10, 2007 -- Get out the measuring tape. Your waist-to-hip ratio may beat the scale at predicting heart disease, a British study shows.

The study is the latest research linking belly fat to heart risk. The take-home message: No matter what size you are, keep your waistline in proportion to your hips.

"In other words, a big waist with comparably big hips does not appear to be as worrisome as a big waist with small hips," Dexter Canoy, MD, PhD, MPhil, says in a news release.

Canoy -- who works at England's University of Cambridge -- teamed up with other researchers to track heart disease in some 24,500 British adults.

When the study started, participants were 45-79 years old. They got their height, weight, hips, and waist measured.

Over the next nine years, some 1,700 men and nearly 900 women developed heart disease. That includes 662 people who died of heart disease during the study.

Canoy and colleagues dug through the data to learn which of the following was the best predictor of heart disease: BMI (body mass index, which relates height to weight), waist-to-hip ratio (which relates waist size to hip size), waist circumference alone, or hip circumference alone.

Waist-to-hip ratio was the best predictor of heart disease.

That pattern was true regardless of other heart disease risk factors. And it wasn't just a good predictor in overweight or obese people. The findings held for people with normal BMI, too.

Want some perspective on the findings?

The odds of developing heart disease during the study were 55% greater for men and 91% greater for women with the largest bellies and smallest hips, compared with those with the smallest waists and largest hips.

That is, heart risks were higher for people with apple-shaped builds than for those with pear-shaped bodies.

Excess abdominal fat may do more than just pad the waistline. It might tweak the body's hormones, upping heart risk, the researchers note.

Their study appears in Circulation.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Canoy, D. Circulation, Dec. 18/25, 2007; vol 116. News release, American Heart Association.

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