Belly Fat WILL Be The Death of You

Researchers from the Mayo clinic have determined that people of normal weight but with excess belly fat have a higher death risk than people classified as obese.

“We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important even in people with a normal weight,” says senior author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on body mass index. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding.”

The Science

The study included 12,785 people aged 18 and older from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a representative sample of the U.S. population. The survey recorded body measurements such as height, weight, waist circumference and hip circumference, as well as socioeconomic status, co-morbidities, and physiological and laboratory measurements. Baseline data were matched to the National Death Index to assess deaths at follow-up.

Test subjects were divided by body mass index into three categories….

  • normal: 18.5–24.9 kg/m2;
  • overweight: 25.0–29.9 kg/m2;
  • and obese: >30 kg/m2

….and two categories of waist-to-hip ratio

  • normal: <0.85 in women and <0.90 in men;
  • and high: ≥0.85 in women and ≥0.90 in men

Analyses were adjusted for age, sex, race, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia and baseline body mass index. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer were excluded.

Here’s what they found

The risk of cardiovascular death was 2.75 times higher, and the risk of death from all causes was 2.08 times higher, in people of normal weight with central obesity (aka belly fat), compared with those with a normal body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio.

What was really surprising were the findings that total and cardiovascular mortality were also higher in the group with normal BMI and a high waist-to-hip ratio than even in those with BMIs in the obesity range.

“The high risk of death may be related to a higher visceral fat accumulation in this group, which is associated with insulin resistance and other risk factors, the limited amount of fat located on the hips and legs, which is fat with presumed protective effects, and to the relatively limited amount of muscle mass,” says Karine Sahakyan, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiovascular research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.


Having a big belly WILL be the death of you…or someone you love.

For more information and advice, check out the following reference links.


Douglas Robb

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, and a student of nutrition and exercise science. He's also the co-founder of the Hive Health Media. Since 2008, Doug has expanded his impact by bringing his real-world experience online via the health & fitness blog – Health Habits.

4 thoughts on “Belly Fat WILL Be The Death of You

  • September 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Aside from regular exercise and reducing beer intake, are there any other ways/tips on how a normal weight person who has central belly obesity can reduce it?

  • September 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    This is an epidemic.

    Many of my friends sport bellies, and several of them used to be college athletes.

    Hit middle age, keep drinking beer which pumps up uric acid interferes with proper insulin function, and the fat gets slapped on the gut…

    Doesn’t help that at the same time, testosterone is declining, muscle mass is shrinking.

    Maybe it’s time to launch a new blog: BeerBellyAthlete[dot]com


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