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Mar 06, 2013

Belly Fat Increases Cardiovascular Risk

Do you have a healthy BMI? Where we carry weight may determine our health more accurately than our BMI suggests.

To see if we’re a healthy weight, most of us use body mass index (BMI) to find an answer. Taking into account height and weight, this simple measurement can tell us whether we’re underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. And if we fall into the “normal” weight range, it’s safe to assume that we’re heart healthy. Right?

According to a new study, how we carry our weight is actually more important than BMI when it comes to heart disease risk. In fact, experts go as far to say that BMI is a “terrible” way to assess cardiovascular risk, especially compared to our levels of belly fat.

This study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, looked at more than 15,500 people with heart disease with varying BMIs and amounts of belly fat. After following participants for nearly five years, people with a “normal” BMI but more belly fat were 27 percent more likely to die than those with an “obese” BMI who had less fat around their mid-section. So, normal-weight individuals with belly fat have worse survival odds than people who may be obese, but carry those excess pounds differently.

These results confirm what other studies have also found: how we carry our weight may predict cardiovascular risk more than our weight alone. Carrying weight around the mid-section is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. Belly fat increases blood pressure, changes how we metabolize cholesterol and increases risk for diabetes, thus raising risk for heart disease. But what’s surprising about these findings is that people who are a healthy weight actually have greater mortality risk than their obese counterparts, if they have more belly fat.

So what can we take away from this study? Most importantly, just because we’re a normal weight according to the BMI scale doesn’t automatically mean that we’re heart healthy. Carrying extra weight around the mid-section raises cardiovascular risk, no matter what your BMI may be. So it’s important to check your waist circumference and have your doctor measure it as well. If your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches for a female or 40 inches for a male, your risk for heart disease is automatically higher, regardless of your weight.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why is it important to know your BMI and waist circumference?
  • BMI can be helpful in determining if you’re a healthy weight or not, but it’s not 100% accurate. If you have very little or very high amounts of muscle, your BMI will be skewed. Also, research has shown that how we carry weight is more important than our BMI when it comes to risk for heart disease. Belly fat is a known risk factor for heart disease and carrying excess weight around the midsection raises cardiovascular risk, regardless of BMI.

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