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Belly fat affects lung performance

10th March 2009

A new study shows that abdominal obesity is associated with impaired lung function regardless of a person's overall obesity.


As part of a group of problematic symptoms dubbed metabolic syndrome, a large waist measurement is already linked with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

But excess belly fat is now firmly linked to decreased lung function, regardless of other factors.

Researchers in France analysed demographic and health information from 120,000 people, taking alcohol and tobacco consumption into account, as well as body mass index and other measurements of body weight.

Writing in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, study lead author Natalie Leone said that the researchers found a positive independent relationship between lung function impairment and metabolic syndrome due mainly to abdominal obesity.

Researchers at the Paris Investigations Preventives et Cliniques Center set the waistline mark for obesity at 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.

Excess belly fat might affect breathing by causing the body to become inflamed, or it may be due to a restriction of the diaphragm.

Paul Enright, in an accompanying editorial, said that routine lung assessments should now include waist measurements.

He said that, if that were so, abdominal obesity could be highlighted on the printed report so that the physician interpreting the report could take the effect of obesity into account.

People classified as having metabolic syndrome have three of the following symptoms: an elevated level of triglicerides (blood fats), elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and a low level of HDL cholesterol.

Poor lung function has also been linked with higher death and hospitalisation rates due to heart disease.

Leone said the association might result from the mechanical effects of truncal obesity on the muscles and skeleton in the chest, and/or the metabolic effects of fat tissue.

Leone's team also found a significant interaction between metabolic syndrome and smoking status, with estimated lung function impairment risk in current and former smokers being higher than in those who never smoked.

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