Spare tires. Saddlebags. Love handles. Muffin tops. Whatever you call the excess flab hanging around your midsection, know that it really needs to go—and not just for aesthetic reasons. Those extra five or 10 pounds you’re carrying around your midsection are far more dangerous than you probably realize.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Imperial College London, and the Oslo University Hospital say a BMI between 25 and 29.9, which is considered overweight but not obese (though that’s even more dangerous), is linked with a higher risk of heart failure. (If you’re 5’9 and 169 pounds, for example, you’d have a BMI of 25, according to the CDC.) That’s according to their new meta-analysis of 23 studies with almost 650,000 participants.
Now, body mass index (BMI) isn’t always reliable since it calculates the relationship between weight and height to measure your body fat. But here’s what the cross-analysis revealed:
– Overweight men and women have a 35 percent increased risk of heart failure compared to people with a normal weight.
– Compared with normal weight, obesity (a BMI of 30 or higher) increases your risk of heart failure two to three times.
– For every increase of 5 BMI units, death from heart failure jumps by 26 percent, according to results from four different studies.
– Every 10cm increase in waist circumference is linked to a 29 percent higher risk of heart failure—based on twelve studies with over 360,000 participants.
To put that in perspective: Men with a waist circumference of 42″ (between a 40-42” in pants) practically doubled their risk of heart failure compared with men whose waist measured 33″ (between a 32-34”). For women, the risk was 80 percent higher(!) when their waist circumference measured 36″ (between a size 12-14) compared with a waist circumference of 27″ (size 6). A higher waist-to-hip ratio was also correlated with a greater risk of heart failure.
“Waist circumference measurements can easily be taken at a regular medical examination and can help when considering the patient’s risk of heart failure,” said study author Dagfinn Aune. But you can just as easily measure your waist circumference yourself using measuring tape. (Or, try one of the six effective ways to calculate your body fat.)
Obesity has always been known to ramp up your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and a poor blood fat profile, which subsequently up your chances of suffering a heart attack and heart failure. These studies found similar (though less extreme) results in people who are overweight but not obese, even when adjusting for lifestyle factors that may affect the link between BMI and heart failure.
“Physical activity and a more plant-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains are important to prevent overweight and obesity, and some studies suggest that they may also be beneficial in preventing heart failure,” Aune says.
This column originally appeared in Men’s Fitness.