That spare tire you’re toting around could be increasing your risk of an early death, a new study suggests. What’s more, the increased risk associated with having a larger waistline occurs even if a person’s body-mass index (BMI) indicates a healthy weight, said lead researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis. He’s an associate professor at the University of Sydney in Australia.
People who carry extra weight around the middle — also called “central obesity” — but have a normal BMI have a 22 percent higher risk of death than people whose fat is stored elsewhere in their bodies, the study found. In folks with a BMI that indicates obesity, the risk of early death was 13 percent higher for those with central obesity.
The study also found that a large gut poses an even greater hazard for heart health. The risk of heart-related death is 25 percent higher for someone with central obesity and a normal BMI. It’s 26 percent greater for those with an overweight BMI and extra abdominal girth, and 56 higher percent for an obese BMI and central obesity, the study found.
BMI is a rough estimate of a person’s body fat based on height and weight measurements. Normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight is 25 to 29.9, and obese is 30 and over. Someone who’s 5 feet, 9 inches tall is considered normal when weight is between 125 and 168 pounds. Overweight is 169 to 202 pounds. Obese is 203 pounds or higher.
Waist-to-hip ratio is a measurement used to determine if there is excess belly fat. Stamatakis said waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
“If a person’s waist-to-hip ratio is over 0.85 if they are female, or over 0.90 if they are male, then they should be concerned and look into ways to alter their lifestyle to lose or reduce the ‘paunch,'” Stamatakis said.
Ruth Loos is director of the genetics of obesity and related metabolic traits program at the Charles Bronfman Institute of Personalized Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
She said these findings jibe with previous studies indicating that belly fat may be more detrimental to a person’s health than fat stored elsewhere in the body.
“Studies have been fairly consistent in showing that waist-to-hip ratio contributes to disease,” Loos said.