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Big Waist Size May Mean Trouble, Even At Healthy Weight

By Morgan Jones

Except when it comes to shopping for jeans, many people may not pay close attention to the their waist size. But a new report suggests that number might be an important one for adults to consider.

This report analyzed previous studies to look at how waist size might affect health and risk for death.

The researchers found that having a large waist circumference may increase the risk for death, even among those considered a healthy weight.

This new report, which was led by James R. Cerhan, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, aimed to explore how waist circumference might affect risk for death among people of all body mass indexes (BMIs) — a ratio of weight and height that measures healthy weight.

Dr. Cerhan and team analyzed 11 different studies involving over 650,386 white adult participants. These participants were between the ages of 20 and 83, and enrolled in the studies between January 1, 1986 and December 31, 2000.

The participants were followed for an average of nine years, and during the follow-up time, 78,268 participants died. After analyzing the data, the researchers found evidence of an association between death and waist circumference.

In men with a waist circumference of 43 inches or higher, the risk for death during the follow-up period was 50 percent higher than the risk for men with a waist circumference below 35 inches. In women with a waist circumference of 37 inches or more, the risk for death was around 80 percent higher than that of their counterparts with a waist circumference of 27 inches or less.

Dr. Cerhan and team also found that for every increase in waist circumference of 2 inches, risk for death also increased around 7 percent in men and 9 percent in women.

The increased risk seemed to apply to people of all BMIs — those considered both normal and obese — perhaps signaling that BMI alone might not be the only measure for health in terms of weight.

"The primary goal should be preventing both a high BMI and a large waist circumference,” said Dr. Cerhan in a Mayo Clinic press release. “For those patients who have a large waist, trimming down even a few inches — through exercise and diet — could have important health benefits.”

It is important to remember that Dr. Cerhan's report analyzed previous studies. Further research aimed at exploring this topic is needed.

This study was published in the March issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.