In measuring your health and longevity, many healthcare practitioners take into consideration your BMI – Body Mass Index – a measurement that reflects the ratio of your weight compared to your height.
But now, researchers believe there’s another body measurement that’s far more significant than BMI. I’m talking about your waistline.
BMI is a rather simple measure that has been widely used to link weight to health. As your BMI goes up, your health risks rise.
But the fact is, BMI’s reliability in determining health is shaky in many cases because it doesn’t reveal whether somebody’s extra weight is muscle or fat. And BMI certainly can’t indicate where on the body your fat tissue is stored.
Where’s The Fat? It Matters…
According to a review performed by researchers in Canada and the Middle East, your “central fatness” – that extra fat you carry around your belly – is linked to an earlier death no matter how much other fat you have in your body. They also note, having larger hips or thighs is actually linked to a lower risk of dying at a younger age.1
This review analyzed the results of 72 studies that involved more than 2.5 million people whose health was tracked for up to 24 years.
All of the studies included in the review calculated the mortality risks of various measures of body fat. These included things like the size of the waistline, hip circumference, the waist to hip ratio, waist to thigh ratio, the body adiposity index (a measurement of how much of the body is fat) as well as a shape index, which is the combined measurement of height, waistline and total weight.
Their conclusion? Most of the measures that take into account fat around the waistline (what they call abdominal adiposity) are linked to whether or not somebody’s life will be shorter.
Waistline Fat is a Killer
On average, in these studies, every four-inch (10.16 cm) increase in your waistline increases your risk of death, representing an 11 percent increase in your chance of dying younger.
On the other hand, the review indicated that each four-inch increase in your hip circumference lowers your risk of death and is connected to a ten percent lower risk of early death. And each two-inch (5.08 cm) increase in thigh circumference lowers your death risk by 18 percent.
The Dangers of Belly Fat
A wealth of research now shows that belly fat can derail your health and potentially kill you in a number of ways:
Repeated heart attacks: A study in Sweden shows that if you survive a heart attack, having a big waistline significantly boosts your chances of additional heart attacks. And belly fat was a bigger factor than what the scientists call “overall obesity.” According to this study, the highest risk of suffering additional heart attacks is associated with having a waistline of more than 38 inches for men. For women, a waistline of more than 32 inches meant a higher repeat heart attack risk.2
Higher risk of certain cancers in postmenopausal women: Research in Denmark indicates that having more fat around your belly is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of lung cancer and cancers of the digestive tract. The study was done on older women whose mean age was 71 and whose health was tracked for 12 years.3
Shrinking Your Waistline
Unfortunately, there’s no miracle method for losing belly fat. Yes, doing more exercise and eating more fruits, vegetables and fiber and less sugar-filled, processed junk food can often help you lose weight in general. But experts mostly agree that you can’t target a particular part of the body for shrinkage. You need an overall healthy diet combined with a healthy lifestyle – that includes consistent exercise – to improve your health and keep your weight under control.
Right now, surveys of the U.S. show that more than half of us carry around too much belly fat.4 And only one in four Americans gets enough exercise.5 Though I’ve said this kind of thing many times before, it bears repeating – to stay away from being one of those statistics, the best time to begin doing more physical activity and eating healthier is today.