Skepticism, Medicine and Science News

Waisting Away

It has been known for quite a while now that having a large waistline does not do you any favours when it comes to your health, and a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms this. The study was done with 360,000 participants and a mean follow-up period of 9.7 years. The results showed that abdominal fat strongly correlated with increased mortality, even in participants that were not considered overweight or obese according to the BMI scale. This suggests that waist and hip measurements should be included in standard health checks, and not just height and weight. 

The study found that the risk of premature death was doubled for men with a waist circumference of >120cm in comparison to men with a circumference of <80cm when controlled for equal BMI. Similar results were present for women, where the corresponding waist measurements were >100cm and <65cm. The general finding were that mortality increased by 17% per 5cm increase in waistline for men, and 13% per 5cm increase for women. Of course, two people with the same BMI could have totally different distributions of fat, so the study also considered another factor, namely waist-to-hip ratio.

Waist-to-hip ratio is exactly what it sounds like; waist circumference divided by hip circumference. The larger the ratio, the more fat is deposited around the waist compared to the hips (ie an apple sized man would have a higher ratio than a pear shaped woman). For men the values ranged from 0.78 and 1.10, and for women from 0.66 to 0.98. Within these ranges, the study found that the mortality risk increased with 34% for men and 24% for women per 0.1 unit increase. The authors suggest that a possible explanation for why abdominal fat is so dangerous is that this fat tends to secrete more cytokines, hormones and metabolically active compounds than other types of fat, thus resulting in the development of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

It is important to point out that the study, in addition to show the dangers of abdominal fat, also found a strong correlation between BMI and mortality, with the lowest risks of mortality found at BMI=25.3 for men, and BMI=24.3 for women. 

The study was done by Pischon et al. as a collaborative effort between multiple research institutions in Europe, mainly Imperial College London and the German Institute of Human Nutrition. The full paper can be found here.


November 14, 2008 - Posted by | Medicine | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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