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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Risky Business: Waist Size & Disease Risk

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Can you look at a person and tell if they are at risk for developing problems such as diabetes, elevated lipid levels, abnormal cholesterol, and more? Recent studies done have found that waist size may be a better predictor of disease prevalence and death than weight itself.

In a study done through the American Cancer Society it was found that large waist sizes (47 inches or larger in men, and 42 inches or larger in women) were associated with nearly twice the risk of death over the course of nine years. The surprising information was that the strongest association of large waists with higher risk of death was found in normal weight women! So waist size can affect an individual’s death rate regardless of weight or Body Mass Index (BMI).

Reasons for this strong association are unclear, but excess fat in the abdomen has been closely related to increased risk of diabetes, elevated cholesterol, insulin resistance and more. In the past these correlations were usually made among overweight and obese individuals. This study, however, showed that excess fat in the abdomen can put you at high risk for developing diseases even if you’re at a healthy weight!

Why would this be? The exact reasons aren’t known. But large waist circumference is linked to excess fat tissue surrounding the organs in the abdomen. This is thought to be more dangerous for one’s health than fat tissue right under the skin.

Having a large waist circumference is closely related to food intake, yet where you hold your fat is largely genetically predetermined. Those who tend to store fat in their stomach are referred to as “apple” shaped, as opposed to those who carry in their legs- known as “pear” shaped. Similar studies have found increased disease risk in those with an apple vs. pear shape due to the placement of fat.

So what can be done to reduce risks associated with abdominal fat? Exercise and a healthy diet are key! Rev up your metabolism by eating small meals and bridge your hunger with snacks. Do resistance training to boost your muscle mass and become a calorie burning machine 24/7. 

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Tags: Nutrition

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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