Is abdominal fat more dangerous than overall BMI?

Central obesity in normal weight individuals means they are at a greater risk of complications than those that are overweight without excess abdominal fat. This is a conclusion from a study conducted in Minnesota, USA. The study looked at 14 years of data from over 15,000 participants in the Third National Health Nutrition Examination Survey which ran from 1988-1994. Central obesity was defined as a waist-hip ratio of ≥0.85 in women and ≥0.9 in men (this is according to the WHO criteria). They found that normal-weight participants with central obesity had worse long-term survival rates than their counterparts with normal fat distribution, regardless of the latters’ BMI. This was mostly due to increased risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and an overall increased risk of total mortality.

Dr Lopez-Jimenez, lead author of the study explained that, with these results, measurements of waist-hip ratio should be included as part of general medical examinations, to ensure that the possible increased risk was not overlooked. This advice goes against current obesity management guidelines from the American Heart Association and the Obesity Society, who both say that waist measurements should only be taken in those who are obese. It will be interesting to see if changes are made to these guidelines as a result of this study.

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