Quick Study: Mo' Belly Fat, Mo' Problems

People who are normal weight but have a big gut could have a higher risk of dying than those who are obese.

waist circumference, belly fat, adipose tissue, BMI

Body mass index is a popular determination of weight, but measuring waist circumference might give a more complete picture. (Photo: Visage/Getty Images)

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: People who are normal weight but have a lot of belly fat could be at higher risk of dying, even compared to people who are obese. A study from the Mayo Clinic, presented recently at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Munich, compared death rates among 12,785 people who were divided into body mass index categories of normal weight, overweight or obese, and into two groups of waist-to-hip ratio: normal and high.

People who were normal weight but had a high waist-to-hip ratio—meaning a lot of abdominal fat—had the highest cardiovascular death risk and the highest death risk from all causes, even higher than people who were obese.

MORE: Doctors Should Screen Adults for Obesity, Panel Says

What we already know: Although BMI is a popular measure of weight, it may not tell the whole story. More studies are focusing on the health risks of belly fat, linking it to higher odds of developing diabetes and heart disease. It’s believed that fat found in the abdomen may be more metabolically active, producing hormones that can increase inflammation.

What it means for you: If you’re slim everywhere but your tummy, don’t get complacent. Talk to your doctor about potential health risks, and work on downsizing that stomach. Remember, you can’t spot-reduce, so doing a million crunches without altering your diet or changing your lifestyle won’t move that belly an inch. A comprehensive program of diet and exercise is always best for weight loss.

Do you go by BMI, waist circumference or other means to see if you're overweight? Let us know in the comments.

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