Every centimetre of excess belly fat 'raises heart failure risk by 4%'

Researchers tracked the health of middle-aged people over a 13-year period

Carrying excess tummy fat substantially increases the risk of heart failure, a new study indicates. Towfiqu Barbhuiya / Unsplash
Powered by automated translation

Carrying excess stomach fat puts a person at substantially higher risk of heart failure, with every extra centimetre around the waistline increasing the chance of developing the condition by 4 per cent, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Oxford measured the waistlines of almost 430,000 middle-aged people with an average age of 57, tracking their health over a 13-year period.

In that time, nearly 9,000 were admitted to hospital with heart failure.

And those with the largest waistlines were 3.21 times more likely to suffer heart failure than the slimmest.

The waistline is more important in tracking body fatness and cardiovascular risk
Dr Ayodipupo Oguntade

“We know that visceral adipose tissue — the fat around the organs in the abdomen — is very active and contains a lot of inflammatory factors that can cause cardiovascular disease,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr Ayodipupo Oguntade, told The Times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, research associates belly fat with a higher risk of early death, regardless of a person’s weight.

Some studies have shown that even if someone is considered a normal weight on a body mass index measurement, a large waistline increases their risk of dying due to cardiovascular disease.

Belly fat contains visceral fat, which is found deep in the abdomen, surrounding the internal organs. It is known as an active fat because it influences how hormones work in the body.

Visceral fat leads to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, narrow arteries, enter the liver and affect how the body processes sugar and fat.

Experts said tracking the waistline provides a more accurate measure of a person’s health than the commonly-used standard body mass index. But it can be hard to judge how much visceral fat a person has as even someone who is thin can have it.

BMI is a measure of general fatness whereas waist circumference measures central fat deposits,” said Dr Oguntade.

The waistline is more important in tracking body fatness and cardiovascular risk.”

Experts recommend regular waist measuring.

“Ideally you should have a piece of tape measuring half your height somewhere handy in the bathroom,” Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum told The Times.

“If it fits snugly around your bare waist you’re in a ‘healthy’ weight range. If it doesn’t, seriously consider cutting down on the sugary snacks which probably caused your spare tyre and sensibly reduce your risk of any heart problem.”

In a separate study, research led by a team from Oxford in collaboration with the University of California found the growth of the foetal abdomen was influenced by blood lipid metabolites — fat in the mother’s blood — very early in pregnancy.

And both the size of the foetal abdomen and the fat in the mother’s blood early in pregnancy influence the child’s weight and body fat at 2 years of age.

Stephen Kennedy, professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Oxford, who co-led the study, said: “This landmark study has provided valuable new insights into the biological origins of childhood obesity, which is one of the most pressing public health issues facing governments around the world.

“The findings could contribute to earlier identification of infants at risk of obesity.”

Updated: August 30, 2022, 4:43 AM