Having belly fat doubles the risk of heart disease even if you aren’t obese, according a new study.
The Mayo Clinic research suggests that irrespective of a person’s body mass index (BMI) – which is defined as weight relative to height and is used to categorise adults as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese – belly is bad for the heart.
Study author Dr Jose Medina-Inojosa, from the division of Preventive Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said: “See your doctor if your waist is bigger than your hips.”
The team wanted to investigate whether people with normal weight and central obesity – which is a store of excess fat around the middle of the body and is said to indicate abnormal fat distribution – would have more heart problems than people with normal weight and normal fat distribution.
Over 1,600 participants aged 45 years or older took part in a 19-year study and underwent clinical examination.
They were then followed up for the occurrence of major adverse cardiovascular events (Mace) – defined as a heart attack, surgical or percutaneous coronary revascularisation to open blocked arteries, strokes, or death from cardiovascular causes.
The results showed those with central obesity had twice the risk of Mace compared to participants without central obesity, regardless of their BMI.
Dr Medina-Inojosa said: “People with a normal weight but a fat belly have more chance of heart problems than people without a fat belly, even if they are obese according to BMI.
“This body shape indicates a sedentary lifestyle, low muscle mass, and eating too many refined carbohydrates.
“The belly is usually the first place we deposit fat, so people classified as overweight BMI but without a fat belly probably have more muscle which is good for health.”
For those with fat around their belly, Dr Medina-Inojosa advises seeing a doctor as well as decreasing sedentary time by exercising more, increasing muscle mass and cutting out refined carbohydrates.
He added: “Our study provides evidence that doctors should also measure central obesity to get a better picture of whether a patient is at risk.”
The results from the research was presented on Monday at EuroPrevent 2018 – a European Society of Cardiology conference.