Study: Larger Waist Size Increases Health Risks

(News on Article date: August 10, 2010)

The larger your waist — regardless of your weight — the greater your risk of dying from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease, say American Cancer Society researchers in a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The message: watch not just your weight, but the size of your belly, too.

What the study found:

In the study, which was led by Eric J. Jacobs, PhD, American Cancer Society strategic director, Pharmacoepidemiology, researchers examined the association between waist circumference and the risk of death among 48,500 men and 56,343 women age 50 and older who had taken part in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, a subset of the larger Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II). Participants filled out detailed questionnaires about their health and lifestyle, and also measured their waist size with a tape measure. They were then tracked for 9 years.

“We were interested in looking at waist size because it’s strongly correlated to fat tissue in the abdomen, which is the most dangerous kind of fat issue,” said Jacobs.

Abdominal fat tissue is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, among other health problems.

Jacobs and his colleagues found that people with very large waists (47 inches or larger in men, 42 inches or larger in women) had approximately twice the risk of death compared to those with the smallest waists (35 inches in men, 30 inches in women) during the study period. The larger the waist circumference, the higher the risk was. This association held regardless of whether a person was at normal weight, overweight, or obese, as defined by their body mass index (BMI). Among women, the association was strongest for those at a normal weight.

“We found a pattern showing that expanding waist size was linked to a greater risk of dying regardless of body weight,” said Jacobs. “Similarly, people with the smallest waist sizes had the lowest risk. The take home message here is watch your waist size regardless of your weight.”

Eat better, exercise more:

Research has shown that the best way to reduce belly fat is to balance caloric intake with physical activity.

“There’s no evidence that doing a particular set of abdominal moves will reduce belly fat. The best thing you can do is to eat better and exercise more,” according to Jacobs.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity 5 days a week or more. To get the most out of your diet, try to eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day, choose whole grains over processed grains, and limit red meat.

American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers were among the first to hone in on the issue of excess weight and cancer risk. A 2003 ACS study of more than 900,000 men and women found the heaviest men had death rates from all cancers combined that were 52% higher than the rates among normal-weight men. The heaviest women had cancer death rates 62% higher than normal-weight women, the study found.

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