Be Careful 'Bout that Beer Belly

Heart disease patients with fat around waist have increased risk of death

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A little bit of belly fat might seem harmless. But if you have heart disease, that extra chub can be dangerous to your health. In fact, having lots of fat around your waist can be the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Researchers found that heart disease patients who have extra weight around their waist have a higher risk of death. Patients who are obese in their midsection can have as much as twice the risk of dying.

"A beer belly increases your risk of heart disease."

These findings go against what is called the "obesity paradox" - findings from past studies that showed that overweight or obese people with heart disease had a better chance of survival than normal-weight people.

According to lead author Thais Coutinho, M.D., from the Mayo Clinic, the researchers for this study had a feeling that the obesity paradox was happening because Body Mass Index (BMI) is not a good way to measure body fat. It just measures weight.

Instead Coutinho and colleagues measured fat by waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. The study's findings suggest that BMI is not as much of a risk factor for heart disease patients. Rather, says Coutinho, patients' risk of death is affected by where their fat is located.

The study's authors say that doctors should talk to heart disease patients about losing weight if they have a large waist circumference or a high hip-to-waist ratio, even if those patients have normal BMI.

The Study

  • In order to study the relationship between heart disease, body fat, and risk of dying, Mayo Clinic researchers looked at data from almost 16,000 people with heart disease, or coronary artery disease
  • Body fat was measured by waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio
  • Patients with coronary artery disease and central obesity (obesity around the waist) had as much as twice the risk of dying 
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Review Date: 
May 3, 2011
Last Updated:
May 4, 2011