That’s what British researchers found after following 30,000 middle-aged Europeans for up to 17 years: Waist size, not just weight or Body Mass Index (BMI), was a better predictor for high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
“Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world,” said study author Margaret Ashwell.
BMI, a ratio of height to weight, has been criticized lately because it doesn’t take into account muscle mass or indicate where fat is located on the body. On the BMI scale, a muscular athlete could have the same BMI as a couch potato who’s the same height, but overweight with a big gut.
Waist size, on the other hand, is not only a lot simpler than BMI to calculate, it’s a fast snapshot of a person’s body type and can help identify high-risk people who are overweight, but not obese.
A large waist circumference means lots of belly fat — as opposed to carrying your fat in your hips and thighs — which has been linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. (Belly fat is stored deep in the abdomen, interfering with internal organs; fat elsewhere is stored beneath the skin and produces fewer complications.)
In the study, people who were overweight but also had a large waist – defined as 40 inches for a man and 35 inches for a woman – were more likely than obese people with normal or moderately large waists to develop type 2 diabetes, the researchers found.
After 10 years, 7 percent of overweight men and 4.4 percent of overweight women with large waists had developed diabetes. In contrast, among obese men and women with moderately large waists, diabetes developed in just 4.9 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.
Among women, in fact, waist size appeared to be even more useful than BMI for predicting diabetes, CNN reported.
The study was the largest of its kind, although the authors pointed out that it was limited to participants who were European and overwhelmingly white. Future studies will be needed to confirm the link between waist size and diabetes in people of other ethnic backgrounds.
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