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Belly fat boosts sudden heart death risk

14th May 2012

Obese or overweight people who have a "spare tyre" of abdominal fat may be at a higher risk of sudden death from heart attack, a new study has found.


According to researcher Selcuk Adabag of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the ratio of hip measurements to waist measurements matters even more than the traditionally used body-mass index (BMI) when it comes to predicting sudden cardiac death risk.

Obesity is already a moderate risk factor for sudden cardiac death, but an "apple-shaped" body with most of the fat carried around the waist is a risk factor regardless of how heavy a person is overall.

Even after factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease were taken into account, abdominal obesity was found to have an impact on a person's risk of dying from a heart attack.

Speaking to an annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society in Boston, Adabag said that in a study of the medical records of more than 15,000 people aged 54 on average, more than 300 died suddenly from a heart attack over the course of 13 years.

The study participants came from four different parts of the United States, and were all enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study.

All were screened for age, sex, race, education, smoking status and family history of heart disease. However, Adabag found that BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio all were linked with sudden cardiac death.

However, when high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and heart failure were factored in, only a high waist-to-hip ratio showed up as a clearly linking factor for sudden heart attack death.

He speculated that the location of fat storage on the body made a difference to the heart, making apple-shaped bodies more risky than pear-shaped bodies.

The reason for this is that abdominal fat produces high quantities of inflammatory substances, and inflammation is linked with heart problems.

According to Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist and director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, an elevated waist-to-hip ratio has been linked to conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure in previous studies.

But experts had never seen the relationship to sudden cardiac death this clearly before the current study, she said.

A healthy waist-to-hip ratio should be less than 0.8 for women and 0.95 for men. Someone with the same hip and waist measurement would have a ratio of 1, which is not regarded as healthy.

Adabag said the same strategies to prevent obesity would also work for improving hip-to-waist ratios: a healthy diet and more exercise.

Background information included in Adabag's study showed that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the US are considered overweight or obese.

However, the study is a preliminary one and does not establish a cause and effect relationship between abdominal fat and sudden cardiac death.

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SB Editor

Monday 14th May 2012 @ 18:18

Inspired by this article, I just wrote a blog post about how High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can shrink your belly fat and lower your cardiovascular risk!

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