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Don't be an apple; it increases your risk of death

November 14, 2008 | 10:22 am


If your waistband fits more snugly than in years past -- or if you've resorted to elastic -- be forewarned: That extra belly fat appears to boost your chances of dying within the next few years.

In a study published in the Nov. 13 New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition assessed the level of excess weight (as gauged by body mass index), as well as where that weight was deposited, in 359,387 people. After about 10 years, they pulled together the data on those who had died (a total of 14,723 people).

Adults with BMIs in the highest and lowest ranges had the highest risk of death during the study period. (Thinner is not always better.) Men with a BMI of 25.3 and women with a BMI of 24.3 had the lowest risk of death.

In further analysis, the researchers compared people with the same BMI and found that those with a higher waist circumference and a higher waist-to-hip ratio also faced a greater risk. In fact, for every 5-centimeter increase in waist circumference, the likelihood of death rose 17% for men and 13% for women.

Of note, people with the lowest BMI and the highest waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (the true apple look) had the highest risk of death.

Body-mass index as a way of assessing fitness obviously isn't perfect, but it's an important start. Here's a calculator. Normal weight is considered 18.5 to 24.9.

The researchers conclude: "The findings of our study suggest that general and abdominal adiposity are both associated with the risk of death. The results support the use of waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio in addition to BMI in the assessment of the risk of death, particularly among persons with a low BMI."

In other words, to increase your chances of living longer, shed the belly fat.

For a look at what abdominal fat does in the body, check out Belly fat blues, by staff writer Shari Roan. There's also Find out how you measure up, an explanation of how to measure that fat.

And for two special sections on weight loss (with the latest research and advice), check out The Times' archives from last summer. Look under Health.

Weight Loss: Why It's Hard

Weight Loss: A How-To Guide

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Waist measurement, not just BMI, should be taken into account when assessing abdominal fat.

Credit: Karen Tapia