Harvard Heart Letter

The shape of cardiovascular risk

Apple, pear — it doesn't matter which of these fruits your body shape resembles. Extra body fat, whether you carry it around your midsection (apple shape) or your thighs (pear shape), is bad for your heart and health. So say researchers who reviewed the health records of more than 220,000 men and women taking part in 58 long-term studies (The Lancet, published online March 10, 2011).

The findings are the latest salvo in a spirited debate about the best way to gauge the health effects of overweight and obesity. The three most common measures are as follows:

Body mass index (BMI). This ratio of weight to height is a general estimate of body fat. To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Divide that number by your height in inches. Divide again by your height in inches. Or look it up at www.health.harvard.edu/bmi. The healthy range for BMI is 25 and under.

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