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Excess belly fat linked to higher risk of early death regardless of total body fat

A large systematic review has found that carrying extra fat around your middle is significantly linked to an increased risk of early death from any cause regardless of overall body fat.

The results suggest that measures of central adiposity – such as waist circumference – may be a more reliable indicator and should be added to body mass index when assessing an individual’s risk of premature death, the researchers concluded

Writing in the BMJ, the researchers said while studies had pointed to a role of ‘central fatness’ it had not been quantified.

Analysis of data from 72 studies with over 2.5 million participants showed that most measures of abdominal adiposity including waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, waist-to-thigh ratio were significantly and positively associated with a higher all cause mortality risk. 

The data showed that each 10cm increase in waist circumference was associated with an 11% higher risk of all cause mortality, while every 0.1 unit increase in waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, and waist-to-thigh ratio was associated with around a 20% higher risk.

The link remained significant after body mass index was accounted for, which indicates that abdominal deposition of fat, independent of overall obesity, is associated with a higher risk, the researchers concluded.

By contrast, having a larger hip and thigh circumference were associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, the researchers reported.

‘Our results suggest that measures of central adiposity could be used as a supplementary approach, in combination with body mass index, to determine the risk of premature death.’


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