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Belly Circumference Better Predictor of Death Risk than BMI

Update Date: Mar 15, 2014 11:40 AM EDT

Body mass index (BMI), which calculates weight in relation to height, has been used as a measurement of obesity for years. According to a new study, however, measuring people's belly circumference might be more effective in predicting lifespan and health than relying only on BMI.

For this study, the researchers reviewed data taken from 11 previous studies that involved over 600,000 participants throughout the world. The participants were between 20 and 83-years-old and had enrolled in the studies from January 1, 1986 and December 31, 2000. The participants were tracked for an average of nine years and 78,268 of them had died during the follow-up portion of the study. The data included waist circumference measurements and the incidence rates of several diseases such as heart disease, lung complications and cancer.

The team calculated that for men, a waist size of 43 inches or longer was equivalent to a 50 percent increased risk of death in comparison to men who had a waist size of 35 inches or smaller. In terms of life expectancy, the researchers reported that after passing 40-years-old, a larger waist circumference reduced lifespan by three years.

The researchers reported that women with a waist span of 37 inches or longer had an 80 percent higher risk od death in comparison to women who had a waist span of 27 inches or smaller. After the age of 40, this risk translated to a five-year shorter lifespan for women with larger waists.

Overall, for every two inches increase in waist size, there was a seven percent increased risk of death for men and a nine percent increased risk of death for women. The researchers stated that even though they did not find a cause-and-effect relationship, they found that this relationship help true for people with normal BMIs. This finding suggests that measuring waist circumference might be more effective in predicting death risk than BMI.

"BMI is not a perfect measure," study lead author Dr. James Cerhan, an epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said according to Philly. "It doesn't discriminate lean mass from fat mass, and it also doesn't say anything about where your weight is located. We worry about that because extra fat in your belly has a metabolic profile that is associated with diseases such as diabetes and heart disease."

The study, "A Pooled Analysis of Waist Circumference and Mortality in 650,000 Adults," was published in the journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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