Healthy living

Abdominal fat increases heart disease risk

Abdominal fat raises increases heart disease risk More dangerous than hip fat

People with heart disease who carry fat around the waist have an increased risk of dying, according to new research.

Even patients with a normal body mass index (BMI) but who also had a modest beer belly or muffin top were at greater risk of dying, compared to those who had a trim waist, the study found.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic analysed data from five studies involving 15,923 people with coronary artery disease from around the world.

Waist measurement and waist-to-hip ratio was used to calculate central or abdominal fat.

For patients with heart disease, central obesity was the equivalent to the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day or having very high cholesterol, the researchers said.

The findings also help to explain why other studies have shown people with a high BMI and heart disease have better survival odds than people of a normal weight.

"BMI is just a measure of weight in proportion to height, said Dr Thais Coutinho at the Mayo Clinic. "What seems to be more important is how the fat is distributed on the body.''

The researchers also suggested why waist fat may be more harmful than fat elsewhere on the body: "Visceral fat has been found to be more metabolically active. It produces more changes in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

"However, people who have fat mostly in other locations in the body, specifically, the legs and buttocks, don't show this increased risk," explained Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, director of the Cardiometabolic Program at the hospital.

Doctors should advise patients to lose weight if they have a normal BMI but a large waist measurement or a high waist-to-hip ratio, to reduce their risk of an early death, researchers said.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

This article was published on Tue 3 May 2011

Image © Luis Louro -

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