Waist Circumference Predicts Heart Risk

When you step on the scale, do you see a normal weight?  When you check that BMI chart by the scale at the doctor’s office, are you reassured to see your score is under 25?  That means you’re good, right?

Not so fast.  There’s another measurement to take.  Your waist circumference also says a lot about your heart risk.

Carrying body fat around your middle, called abdominal adiposity, is a marker of higher heart risk.  For women, a waist circumference over 35 inches is a risk factor for heart disease.  (That’s assuming she’s not pregnant, of course!)  For men, the threshold is a waist circumference over 40 inches.

A study published recently in the European Heart Journal shared some interesting insights.  The authors analyzed data from almost 300,000 people to see what waist circumference and other measures of “fatness” tell us about heart risk.

They found that there was a linear increase in heart risk with increasing waist circumference.  Also, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio and waist-to-height ratio also gave almost a linear increase in heart risk with increasing values.

BMI did NOT give a good correlation to heart risk.  I’ve always hated the BMI.  It’s stupid and doesn’t account for body composition.  Someone with a lot of muscle, like LeBron James, is NOT obese but you can’t tell that from the BMI.

So when you go to the doctor and he or she measures your weight and height, don’t stop there.  Ask to have them measure your waist circumference too.  Better yet, see if they have a body fat analyzer.  I have a handheld unit in my office that isn’t perfect, but it does give a much better estimate of whether someone is overweight or obese than BMI does.

When I am working on weight loss with patients, I target 30% body fat in women and 25% in men.  That’s just a starting point, people may need a different individualized target.

A third of Americans die of cardiovascular disease, and two thirds of Americans are obese or overweight.  Waist circumference can help determine whether you are at higher risk for a cardiovascular event.

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