Belly fat linked with higher heart disease risk

Muffin top. Spare tire. Beer belly. Whatever you call it, research shows that extra fat around your belly poses a unique health threat.

The study in the March 6, 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association involved about 500,000 people, ages 40 to 69, in the United Kingdom. The researchers took body measurements of the participants and then kept track of who had heart attacks over the next seven years. During that period, the women who carried more weight around their middles (measured by waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, or waist-to-height ratio) had a 10% to 20% greater risk of heart attack than women who were just heavier over all (measured by body mass index, or BMI, a calculation of weight in relation to height). A larger waist-to-hip ratio, in particular, appeared to be a bigger heart attack risk factor for women than for men. The analysis showed that compared with BMI, waist-to-hip ratio was 18% stronger as a heart attack predictor in women — versus 6% stronger in men.

But the message that you should take from this study should be less about the gender differences and more about the overall risks presented by central adiposity, says Dr. Barbara Kahn, the George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Widening waistline, growing risks

Regardless of whether women are more vulnerable than men to heart problems related to abdominal weight gain, it’s pretty clear that central adiposity presents important health risks, Dr. Kahn says. Researchers have shown that weight gain around the middle represents an increase in the amount of visceral fat, the type of fat that encases your internal organs. “There are many studies showing that an unfavorable waist-to-hip ratio is highly associated with diabetes and cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Kahn.

So, if your waistband has been feeling a little tighter these days, it may be time to take some action.

Strategies to whittle your waist and lower your risk

Keep weight gain in check. “The focus should be on limiting weight gain over all,” says Dr. Kahn. Women tend to put on pounds as they get older and after menopause. This occurs for many reasons, among them hormonal changes, a decline in muscle mass (because fat burns less calories than muscle), and in some cases lifestyle changes. Keeping tabs on your weight — and your waist — and making changes to your daily routine can help prevent the pounds from creeping up as you go through this transition. “I don’t talk with patients as much about going on a diet as I do about creating a long-term lifestyle program that includes physical activity and sustainable dietary changes,” says Dr. Kahn. Weight that comes off slowly tends to stay off. By contrast, very rapid weight loss can trigger your body to slow its metabolism, setting the stage for the weight to be regained quickly.

Get moving. It’s probably no surprise that increasing the amount of exercise you do should be a goal if you’re looking to keep your waistline in check. “I’m a big proponent of regular exercise,” says Dr. Kahn. If you’re squeezed for time, fit it in where you can — for instance, a half-hour walk outside the office at noon or before you drive home for the day. “It doesn’t have to be excessively vigorous. You don’t need to go to the gym and change your clothes,” she says. Just being physically active can help improve your metabolic health. Even getting up to walk around periodically during work can be beneficial. Regular physical activity may not always help you lose weight, but again, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, and also improve blood sugar for people with diabetes. Having a higher proportion of muscle mass can help you burn more calories, so adding strength training at least twice a week, focusing on all the major muscle groups, may also help you maintain your weight.

Unfortunately, avoiding weight gain around the middle may be easier for some women than others, as some people are simply more prone to adding extra pounds in the belly. Research may one day help to uncover new ways to head off this dangerous type of fat and, in turn, reduce the risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Certain newer medications used to treat people with diabetes — known as sodium-linked glucose transport inhibitors — have the interesting side effect of inducing weight loss and reducing visceral fat, says Dr. Kahn. “This does point to the possibility that there may be some physiological mechanisms that target visceral adiposity,” says Dr. Kahn. In the meantime, focus on lifestyle changes and exercise, and keep an eye on your belt buckle to gauge your progress.

Related Information: Lose Weight and Keep It Off


  1. Sophie

    Good article. Don’t you think that the pictures could have been more representative of the content though? That woman could hardly be at any risk 😉

  2. Kiran John

    great.I usually check bmi in this site It shows my bmi is obese.Is there any other calculator similiar to bmi

  3. jody

    to VF,

    try the diet for Chronic Kidney Disease and the weight should easily disappear. you will be eating less protein b/c it is a low protein diet. there are a lot of items everyone views as healthy that you cannot touch. takes about 6mos to eliminate the resistance to this plan and then the pounds disappear. it is not a fun trip, but everyone i know who has followed this has had a good outcome. find a renal dietitian for recommendations.

  4. jakoba drenth

    Has anyone thought about the fact that as you get fitter and thus gain muscle, that muscle is heavier than fat? That may explain why, when you do everything right you don’t gain, but you don’t lose either if you’re at the “right weight”. So why worry?

  5. Victor Fabricius

    At 68, I bike at least 30-50 miles a week, vigorously up hills, run 14-20 miles a week on hilly trails, eat 2000 cal a day, high protein, 1 carbonated soft drink a day, minimal sweets, only dark chocolate, no sugary juices, about 24+ oz water a day, and at 180 lbs, I still can’t lose the 10 I need to get back to 1 year ago before I gained the 10 lbs. I think cardio must be a waste of time and you pretty much have to starve yourself on 500 cal a day to lose. I feel sorry for anyone the needs to lose a little. It seems easier to be grossly overweight and lose than just lose 10-15, Weight lifting would seem to be the only benefit just to increase or stop muscle loss.

  6. Ger

    I am constantly astounded at peoples’ refusal to take personal responsibility for their lifestyle – especially their eating and exercising habits. All my close friends exercise at least 2 hours per day/ 6 days per week – many of us walk together…. We know we cannot eat a treat more than once per week, and our diet is nothing but healthy fish, salads, beans, virtually no processed foods, no refined carbs, and nothing with added sugar. We have very occasional treats – half a pizza once a month, a glass of wine with dinner at the weekend, a dessert once a week. Yet we are just about a healthy weight – if we stray for a week we are7 lbs heavier! It is not easy to maintain a healthy weight or shape; if you want to do it, remember this! But we are all delighted with ourselves, taking control of our health like this. One tip I would say helped us all; we take the smallest steps and count the smallest progress. That way by the time we reached a healthy weight ( it took years) we were in the habit of healthy living and had forgotten the bad habits. Some of us upped the game by starting to job this year ( we are ave age 60); slowly we can run a mile now! Happy days – but it was very slow progress indeed…

  7. Lane

    As much as we are being bombarded with unhealthy food choices, there are just as many articles like this one about nutrition, healthy foods, weight loss strategies, etc. Yet it appears that Americans of all ages are getting fatter. That said, how does one tactfully tell a loved one that he/she is developing a muffin top, beer belly, or spare tire?

  8. Prafulla

    This is the one of the most important point or we can say, majority of the population of the world are impacted. We know that to remain healthy cost nothing but even people don’t have time for regular workout and take regular diet. The trend of Fast food have engulfed the entire world and spreading much fast.
    In my opinion, Most effective cure for fat and weight loss is by spreading awareness. You can read below small article to maintain Body weight.

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