Research: Your Love Handles Could Be Killing You

Heart in doctor's hand

Researchers warn of heart disease risk increasing with your waistline.  

Waist Circumference Measurement
Waist Circumference Measurement

For 30 years, medical providers have been encouraging diabetics and patients at risk for heart disease patients to consider increasing their exercise and being more healthy.  Study after study has shown a tie between the two diseases and heart disease.   What is the takehome from these studies and recent editorial discussion?  

As early as 1984, studies confirmed the risk of abdominal obesity and cardiac disease, and death in men​[1]​.  A similar study from 1998 showed a similar risk in women​[2]​.  Abdominal adipose tissue distribution and obesity are clearly a risk for heart disease.  Multiple studies have been completed to confirm these results.  It only makes sense that diabetes and metabolic syndrome have similar risk profiles.  The Framingham Study first confirmed that waist circumference is a high risk of heart disease and early death​[3]​.  

A commentary was recently published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics​[4]​ and on the website Science Daily​[5]​.  According to the analysis and article, the risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease is tied to your waist circumference and abdominal obesity.  The risk goes down in men with a waist circumference less than 40 inches and women under 36 inches.   Doing a CT or cardiac catheterization to determine someone’s risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or heart disease is expensive.  A simple waist circumference is an extremely cheap method to determine those at a higher risk that is not invasive and can be performed at home and a physician’s office.  

A recent study published in April of 2017 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, took a different approach​[6]​.  This study looked at 15,184 subjects and the risk of BMI and risk of heart disease.  Although controversial, they determined that normal weight but still centrally obese participants had worse long-term survival when compared with their overweight and obese counterparts.  These results need further research to evaluate and support the findings, but the findings seem to indicate a risk of heart disease is tied to abdominal obesity even with a normal weight.  

The bottom line: The findings discussed in this editorial are far from being earth-shattering.  We have known for 20-30 years that abdominal obesity increased your risk for diabetes and heart disease.  This discussion points out more evidence to back up what we already knew.  Hopefully, this information will encourage more to lose weight and turn to a more healthy path.  I recommend that you work toward this goal and then maintain a healthy waist circumference.  Waist circumference is an easy and cheap way to measure your risk and monitor your success.  


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  1. “Expanding Waistlines and Metabolic Syndrome: Researchers Warn of New ‘Silent Killer.’” Science Daily, April 2017.
  2. Hamer, Mark, Gary O’Donovan, David Stensel, and Emmanuel Stamatakis. “Normal-Weight Central Obesity and Risk for Mortality.” Annals of Internal Medicine. American College of Physicians, April 25, 2017. doi: 10.7326/l17-0022
  3. Kannel, William B., L. Adrienne Cupples, Ratna Ramaswami, Joseph Stokes III, Bernard E. Kreger, and Millicent Higgins. “Regional Obesity and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease; the Framingham Study.” Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. Elsevier BV, January 1991. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(91)90265-b [Source]
  4. Larsson, B, K Svärdsudd, L Welin, L Wilhelmsen, P Björntorp, and G Tibblin. “Abdominal Adipose Tissue Distribution, Obesity, and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death: 13 Year Follow up of Participants in the Study of Men Born in 1913.” British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Ed.) 288, no. 6428 (May 12, 1984): 1401–4. [PubMed]
  5. Rexrode, Kathryn M. “Abdominal Adiposity and Coronary Heart Disease in Women.” JAMA. American Medical Association (AMA), December 2, 1998. doi: 10.1001/jama.280.21.1843
  6. Sherling, Dawn Harris, Parvathi Perumareddi, and Charles H. Hennekens. “Metabolic Syndrome.” Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. SAGE Publications, January 9, 2017. doi: 10.1177/1074248416686187
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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