Large Waist Indicates Shorter Life for Men and
Women; Even if Body Mass Index Okay
March 14, 2014 - Having a big belly has
consequences beyond trouble squeezing into your pants. It’s detrimental
to your health, even if you have a healthy body mass index (BMI), a new
international collaborative study led by a Mayo Clinic researcher found.
Men and women with large waist circumferences were more likely to die
They were most likely to die from illnesses such as heart
disease, respiratory problems, and cancer after accounting for body mass
index, smoking, alcohol use and physical activity.
The study is published in the March edition of
Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The researchers pooled data from 11 different
cohort studies, including more than 600,000 people from around the
world. They found -
Men with waists 43 inches or greater in circumference had a
50 percent higher mortality risk than men with waists less than 35
inches, and this translated to about a three-year lower life expectancy
after age 40.
Women with a waist circumference of 37 inches or greater had
about an 80 percent higher mortality risk than women with a waist
circumference of 27 inches or less, and this translated to about a
five-year lower life expectancy after age 40.
Importantly, risk increased in a linear fashion
such that for every 2 inches of greater circumference, mortality risk
went up about 7 percent in men and about 9 percent in women. Thus, there
was not one natural “cutpoint” for waist circumference that could be
used in the clinic, as risk increased across the spectrum of
Another key finding was that elevated mortality
risk with increasing waist circumference was observed at all levels of
BMI, even among people who had normal BMI levels. Because of the large
size of this pooled study, researchers were able to clearly show the
independent contribution of waist circumference after accounting for
BMI, says James Cerhan, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist and
lead author of the study.
“BMI is not a perfect measure,” says Dr. Cerhan.
“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.”
Dr. Cerhan says physicians should consider both BMI
and waist circumference as part of risk assessment for obesity-related
“The primary goal should be preventing both a high
BMI and a large waist circumference,” Dr. Cerhan says. “For those
patients who have a large waist, trimming down even a few inches —
through exercise and diet — could have important health benefits.”
This study was funded by the U.S. National Cancer
Institute as part of the Cohort Consortium and included investigators
from North American, Europe and Australia.