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Nov 10, 2015 06:38 AM EST

Belly fat increases the risk of premature death

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A new research study reveals that excess weight around the middle can increase the risk of premature death even for people considered normal weight, U.S. News reports.

"If the waist is larger than your hips, you're at increased risk for disease," said Dr. Samuel Klein, an obesity specialist at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis, who wasn't involved in the new research, according to Huffington Post.

The study suggested that normal weight people with excess stomach fat had an even higher risk of dying early than overweight or obese people did.

"Belly fat is bad fat," said Dr. Paul Poirier, from the Institute of Cardiology at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, and the author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal.

The study was published online Nov. 10 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"When you have fat around the belly, it's a lot worse than having the same amount of fat around the hip," Poirier said.

"If your weight is normal, but you have weight around the middle, it's bad. If you've got a belly above 40 inches for men and 34 inches for women, this is obesity [even if your weight measurements seem normal]," Poirier said.

Stomach fat can increase the risk of high cholesterol, inflammation, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

For the study, a team led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., used data from a national survey and compared the risk of premature death among more than 15,000 adults, based on their BMI and their waist to hip ratios for a period of 14 years.

The study found that normal weight male with more fat around the waist had an 87 percent increased risk of death during the study period compared to a man who was normal weight without extra belly fat. On the other hand, normal weight women with extra belly fat had nearly a 50 percent increased risk of death during the study period versus a normal weight woman whose weight was more equally distributed throughout her body.

In his editorial, Poirier wrote, "These new data provide evidence that clinicians should look beyond BMI. Although assessing for total fat mass with BMI to identify patients at greater cardiovascular risk is a good start, it is not sufficient."

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