A new 14-year study using NHANES data has shown that while overall body fat is important to consider, belly fat may be the real killer. In this review of the data collected as part of the on-going NHANES investigation, researchers discovered that men were twice as likely to die over the next 5-10 years when their belly fat reached dangerous levels (A waist circumference greater than 40 inches. In women, risk increases at a waist circumference greater than 35 inches).
Dangerous levels of belly fat are also bench marked when your waist to hip ratio becomes greater than one. In other words, when your belly circumference reaches a level greater than the circumference of your hips, your risk for diabetes, heart disease and an early death skyrocket.
Women in the study with too much belly fat also demonstrated increased risk, but not as dramatically. Their risk increased by 32% compared to the 50% increase in risk documented for the men.
Here is a look at the data:
At age 50, a man with a normal body weight and normal waist to hip ratio had a 5.7% chance of dying within the next 10 years, while that risk rose to 10.3% chance for men with normal body weights but too much belly fat.
For women, the results were less significant. A woman of normal body weight, but high waist to hip ratio had a 33% increased risk compared to a woman who were overweight but had no central obesity.
A woman aged 50 of normal weight and normal levels of belly fat had a 3.3% chance of dying within 10 years, rising to 4.8% for women of the same weight, but high levels of body fat.
To reinforce the risk discovered in this investigation, it is also interesting to point out that men with normal body weight and a high level of belly fat were more likely to have died than any other combination, including men who were obese and had a high level of belly fat. This means that men who had less body fat overall were still at a higher risk if they had a higher level of belly fat.
Belly fat, as pointed out by one of the researchers, is “Active Fat.” It is more likely to make its way in to your liver and cause inflammation. This in turn puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes, and heart disease and ultimately increases your risk of dying sooner than someone who is not carrying high levels of belly fat.