Belly fat linked to higher risk of premature death but larger hips and thighs may have an inverse effect: Study
Each 10 cm increase in fat around the abdomen was linked with an 11% higher risk of death from all causes. The same rise in the hips led to a 10% lower risk
Having excess fat around the belly may put people at risk of early death, even if they are not overweight, a new study suggests. Larger hips and thighs, on the other hand, are linked with lower risk, thereby having an inverse effect. These are findings from new research that analyzed 72 studies, with data on 2.5 million participants. They found each 10 cm increase in fat around the abdomen was linked with an 11% higher risk of death from all causes. The same rise in the hips led to a 10% lower risk.
"Hip fat is considered beneficial and thigh size is an indicator of the amount of muscle, which is protective," Tauseef Ahmad Khan, a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Toronto's Department of Nutritional Sciences and one of the study authors, told Insider.
Fat around the abdomen deposits near the liver, stomach, and intestines and is not easily seen or felt. It is often called active fat because it raises the risk of several conditions. The reason why that happens is unclear, but scientists speculate that abdominal fat alters the functioning of hormones. Another possibility is that it increases immune chemicals that could make people vulnerable to heart disease.
Typically, Body Mass Index or BMI is used to determine body fat but that is not without its problems. According to experts, it does not tell fat apart from muscle and does not locate where it is deposited. The findings from the new study suggest that "measures of central adiposity could be used as a supplementary approach, in combination with body mass index, to determine the risk of premature death."
Previous studies have linked belly fat with a higher risk of death, including heart disease. It is also linked with a range of diseases such as diabetes, some cancers and even age-related dementias. But the results have been inconclusive, the researchers said in their study. Individuals with a waist-to-hip ratio of more than 1.0 for men or 0.9 for women have abdominal or central obesity. It can be calculated by measuring around the waist, just above the belly button, and then doing the same around the widest part of the hips and later dividing the first value by the second.
A healthy diet and exercise could help cut down belly fat, according to scientists. "The starting point for bringing weight under control, in general, and combating abdominal fat, in particular, is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day) to control weight and lose belly fat," Harvard Health Publishing wrote on their website. "Strength training (exercising with weights) may also help fight abdominal fat. Spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but it won't get at visceral fat."
As for diet, it helps to pay attention to portion size. Consuming fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in complex carbohydrates and choosing lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta and sugary drinks could prove beneficial. People could opt for polyunsaturated fats that are derived from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish over saturated fats and trans fats.
The study is published in BMJ.