Belly Fat a Greater Risk for Heart Disease Than Obesity

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Your body weight may be normal and yet your risk to die of heart attack may be high. New research shows that it's not just your weight but your body shape (waist-to-hip-ratio) that determines your death risk.

As the obesity rate in the country continues to creep up, with over a third of all adults in the United States classified as obese, there is a tendency to think that being generally obese is the greatest risk to your health and chance of living a long and productive life.

New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Munich however shows that people with big bellies, also known as the ‘metabolic syndrome’ and otherwise normal weight bodies suffer from greater risk of death.

Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by the accumulation of weight around the middle of the body, giving rise to an ‘apple shaped’ appearance. It is usually also accompanied by insulin resistance, as the body begins to have difficulty processing sugar, as well general low levels of inflammation. People with metabolic syndrome often have low levels of HDL cholesterol, as well as high levels of blood pressure.

It's Your Belly, not Your Weight, that is Killing You

The new research discovered that normal weight (BMI) people with large bellies were 2.75 times more likely to die of cardiovascular illness and the chance of all risks of death were 2.08 times more likely than that of people with normal BMI and normal waist-to-hip ratio. Clearly, it's the size of the belly, not the weight, that makes the difference.

“We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important, even in people with a normal weight.” This statement was made by Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, the senior writer in the research and a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on BMI.”

The research was done on almost 13,000 people within the United States, who were on average about forty four years old. Forty seven percent were men, and the study lasted about fourteen years, during which 2,562 of the subjects died, of which 1,138 of the deaths were related to cardiovascular illness.

Body Mass Index is calculated by using the subject’s weight and height, and falls within the normal range if the numbers are between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the US National Institute of Health. Further, normal hip to waist ratio is less than 0.9 for men, and less than 0.84 for women. Numbers exceeding those ratios generally indicate the onset of metabolic syndrome. Why people tend to accumulate central fat distribution has not yet been determined, said Karine Sahakyan, a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic.

However, with less than one third of the population of the United States falling within the ‘normal’ weight range, this is a warning message of limited importance, said Donna Arnett, the president of the American Heart Association. “I don’t know that there’s a strong message that people should be concerned,” Arnett said in an interview in Munich today.

If you have metabolic syndrome, your goal should be to lower the risk of heart disease and the development of diabetes. The means to do this are to focus on lowering your blood pressure, your blood cholesterol levels, and to lose weight. All of this can best be accomplished by working with your doctor toward adopting a healthier diet, adapting a more active lifestyle, quitting smoking, and seeking to learn more about nutrition and health in general.

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird and Alex E. Proimos

Phil Tucker is an interval training enthusiast and firm believer  in the nutritional value of the health shake

Alternate to exercise

I can't go for exercise as I have no time for that due to my hectic office routine of about 18 hours a day. What is the alternative way to keep my body strong and fit.

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