Belly Fat Linked With Higher Heart Disease, Cancer Risks

Here's even more evidence that where fat is located on your body matters when it comes to health risks.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Laboratory for Metabolic and Population Health found that people who have high amounts of fat in their abdomens -- versus other parts of the body -- have higher risks of cancer and heart disease. Researchers noted that abdominal fat is considered an indicator of fat surrounding internal organs.

"Contrary to previously published studies comparing BMI and waist circumference, the presence of abdominal fat improved the ability to predict for cardiovascular disease, supporting the hypothesis that abdominal fat may partially underlie the association of body fat and heart disease and cancer," study researcher Dr. Caroline S. Fox, M.D., M.P.H., a senior investigator at the NHLBI Laboratory for Metabolic and Population Health, said in a statement.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, included 3,086 people who were part of the Framingham Heart Study, with an average age of 50. Researchers followed the study participants for as many as seven years, where they took note of their heart disease and cancer statuses. They also used CT scans to analyze where in the bodies fat was accumulating.

At the end of the follow-up period, 71 people died, 90 people had a cardiovascular event and 141 people developed cancer. After taking into account other risk factors and obesity, researchers found an association between carrying fat in the abdomen and having higher risks of cancer and cardiovascular events.

This isn't the first time heart risks have been linked with belly fat. HealthDay reported on a study, published in the same journal earlier this year, showing that for heart patients of a normal weight, the risk of early death goes up if they have belly fat -- and their odds of survival are in fact worse than people who are obese, but who carry their fat elsewhere in their bodies.

Other health risks of too much belly fat? Research presented last year at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America showed an association between belly fat and a higher risk for osteoporosis for men. And a study presented earlier this year at the ATS 2013 International Conference showed an association between obstructive sleep apnea and belly fat in men. Plus, a study conducted in mice and published in the Cancer Prevention Research journal suggests a direct link between abdominal fat and colon cancer.

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