I have a paunch, but I hide it pretty well. Like lots of men, I collect calories in my belly—what scientists call the visceral region, my gut.
It’s easy to conceal: many ordinary men’s shirts are slightly pyramid-shaped, so they fit neatly at the shoulders and then billow a bit as they go south.
But they can also hide a health problem: even if you’re not overweight, having excess belly fat can lead to serious cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. In fact, as new research shows, those who have normal weight but concentrated “central” fat are more than 50% more likely to die earlier from all causes than those who are obese.
A team of eight scientists presented the research in Munich, Germany, last week at a European Society of Cardiology meeting.
Led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, the scientists examined data for 12,785 Americans who had been tracked for approximately 14 years for a major CDC study.
Lopez-Jimenez and his team reviewed information on both body-mass index (BMI) — a measure of how fat you are in proportion to your height — and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), the circumference of your belly in relation to the circumference of your hips. (You can calculate your BMI here and your WHR here.)
The researchers divided the survey participants into three categories of BMI — normal, overweight, and obese. They also divided them into two categories of waist-to-hip ratio—normal and high. (They defined normal as less than .85 for women and less than .90 for men and high as .85 or higher for women and .90 or higher for men.
That left them with six subgroups: normal BMI/normal central fat; normal BMI/high central fat; and so on. This all gets confusing, but the chart here shows all six groups.
At the end of the 14-year follow-up period in the CDC survey, 2,562 people in the sample had died.