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May 10, 2017

Belly Fat Increases Risk for High Blood Pressure

A Chinese study of men and women assesses abdominal obesity and blood pressure.

Weight gain around the midsection spells trouble for blood pressure, based on results of a Chinese study that links abdominal obesity to increased risk for hypertension.

Published in the British medical journal Heart, this study followed more than 10,000 Chinese adults for six years, tracking changes in blood pressure, weight and health. The goal was to assess the impact of changes in waist circumference on risk for developing high blood pressure. Waist circumference is a measure of excess fat around the waist and is an important measure for obesity.

Excess belly fat has been linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Some studies suggest that abdominal obesity—defined here as having a waist circumference greater than or equal to 90 cm (about 35.5 in) for men and 80 cm (about 31.5 in) for women—is a better indicator of health than simply weight.

At the time of enrollment, about 21% of men and 50% of women participating in the study had abdominal obesity. The average age was 50 for men and 47 for women. None had high blood pressure at the start of the study.

After 6 years, rates of abdominal obesity increased to 30% in men and 62% in women. During the same time period, one in five of participants had developed high blood pressure. After analysis, researchers found that men and women who gained weight around their midsection were significantly more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who maintained their weight. Men whose waist circumference increased by at least 5% had 34% greater risk for developing high blood pressure. Women with the same increase in waist circumference had 28% greater risk for high blood pressure than women with little change in belly fat.

Researchers also found that men whose waist circumference shrunk by at least 2.5% during the study period reduced their risk for developing high blood pressure by 19%.

According to authors, this study helps demonstrate the link between belly fat and increased risk for high blood pressure in Chinese adults. It also shows that abdominal obesity is extremely common among Chinese adults and that gaining weight in the midsection increases risk for hypertension. As a result, authors highlight the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy waist size to help prevent high blood pressure, particularly among Chinese adults. Experts also stress the importance of measuring waist circumference in addition to weight to assess obesity and overall health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy waist circumference?
  • Waist circumference is an important tool used to assess an individual’s weight. A healthy waist circumference is less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men. Having too much fat in the waist and abdomen has been linked to increased risk for heart disease and other serious conditions, so maintaining a healthy waist circumference is important to promoting good health.
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.


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Infographic: High Blood Pressure