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  • Based on Your Height, Your Weight Is Good. But What Is the Size of Your Waistline?

    Experts say excess abdominal fat is linked to obesity-related illnesses like diabetes.
    by Kate Borbon .
Based on Your Height, Your Weight Is Good. But What Is the Size of Your Waistline?
PHOTO BY iStock
  • A new study suggests that having a healthy body mass index (BMI) doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is healthy and fit. Instead, the size of your waistline might be a more critical factor to consider when evaluating a person’s health.

    According to a new study by researchers from the University of Iowa in the U.S., a waist size of about 35 inches or more can increase risk of early death for postmenopausal women (49 years old and above), even if they might have an average BMI.

    This condition is known as “central obesity” where the large concentration of fat is around a person’s midsection. Wei Bao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa and lead author of the study, explains that central obesity “can occur even if it’s not enough to shift a person’s body mass index (BMI) into the obese range,” as WebMD reports.

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    The researchers looked into data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a large study that tracked the health of over 156,000 women in the U.S. between 50 and 79 years old from 1993 to 2017. According to a press release from the University of Iowa, the researchers then linked mortality rates to the BMI and central obesity of the respondents.

    They found that women who were considered to be of normal weight based on the BMI scale but had a large waist circumference were 31% more likely to die within 20 years of the initial observation. The probability of risk matched those of obese women with large waist circumference — they were found to be 30% more likely to die within 20 years of the initial observation.

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    What is a healthy waistline?

    A healthy waistline is ideal if you look at the researchers’ findings that central obesity is associated with various health problems. The two leading causes of death in individuals with healthy BMI but large waist sizes were cardiovascular diseases and obesity-related cancer.

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    The findings of this study point out the limitations of BMI in determining how high an individual’s risk of developing various health problems. “While it’s a simple number to understand and easy to determine — it involves only height and weight — it isn’t always accurate because it doesn’t include other important numbers, such as the percentage of body fat or where that fat has accumulated on the body,” says the news release.

    “The results suggest we should encourage physicians to look not only at bodyweight but also body shape when assessing a patient’s health risks,” Bao explains.

    It is worth noting that Bao’s study is not the first to suggest that having a large waistline can be a red flag. Mayo Clinic reports one study with similar findings to Bao’s research. It concluded that there was “an estimated decrease in life expectancy for the highest versus lowest waist circumference of approximately three years for men and five years for women.”

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    Specifically, men with a waist circumference of 43 inches (110cm) were 50% more likely to die early than men with a 37-inch (94cm) waist. Meanwhile, women with a waist circumference of 37 inches (94cm) were 80% more likely to die early than women with a 27.5-inch (70cm) waist.

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    The Mayo Clinic also notes, “A large waist circumference is a red flag for excessive abdominal fat, which is associated with obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high triglycerides (a type of fat), high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.”

    Dr. Guy Mintz, director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York, tells WebMD that Bao’s study encourages health care providers to pay attention to an individual’s fat distribution and waist circumference — even those with normal BMI, who might be overlooked by doctors and they think that they are perfectly fit.

    Dr. Mintz continues that “once obesity is identified, patient education is essential to change diet, exercise and flatten our abdomens.” He also says that “while the article looked at an older female population, I personally feel it holds true in younger patients as well.”

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    Indeed, working to shed off excess pounds and maintain a certain weight is not always about wanting to look sexy; it can be vital in protecting oneself from certain health conditions that can prove to be life-threatening. Reducing your weight is not a quick or easy process, but it will keep you healthy.

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