Big Bellies: As Bad for You as Smoking

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To put it bluntly, a big belly can kill you. Especially if you're already suffering from coronary artery disease.

A major new Mayo Clinic study of nearly 16,000 heart disease patients around the world found that having a beer gut doubles your risk of dying. Belly fat is particularly bad for men with clogged arteries, the researchers said, equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or having very high cholesterol.

The new research, published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was surprising because it found that simply being overweight is not as bad as where you pack on those extra pounds.

If you have heavy thighs, hips and rear -- in other words, pear-shaped -- that's much better than being apple-shaped with a fat, protruding middle. And if you have coronary artery disease, that big gut is a better indicator of your risk of dying than whether you're overweight.

The reason for the difference is because abdominal fat extends deep into the body and produces hormones that affect blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. The fat in your thighs or rear stays closer to the surface and doesn't have the same effect.

So how big a belly are we talking about? A woman whose waist measures 35 inches or more,  or a man whose middle is 40 inches or more, needs to seriously think about reducing that spare tire.

Photo credit: Tobyotter via flickr

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