A new study suggests that even if you’re skinny, having a little extra weight around your stomach can be worse than being overweight or obese.
While the health effects of being overweight have long been known, the new study suggests that it is the distribution of the weight which makes a big difference. Weight around the stomach increases the risk of death more than weight on the hips or below.
The results indicate that skinny people with extra fat around their stomachs could be at more of a health risk than obese people.
Researchers studied data from a U.S. survey on over 15,000 adults. The researchers looked at the incidence of premature death and compared this with both body mass index (BMI) and hip-to-waist ratio.
BMI is the common measurement used to determine if someone is overweight or obese. It measures weight against height to determine if someone is at a normal weight. A high BMI means the person is overweight or obese, while a lower BMI shows they are at a normal weight or are underweight.
In comparison, hip-to-waist ratio does not measure overall weight. Rather, it measures the difference between the size of the stomach and waist and the size of the hip. Someone with a low BMI could have a high hip-to-waist ratio if they have a big stomach.
The researchers found that people with more weight in their stomachs were more likely to die than those who were overweight or obese.
In fact, men with stomach fat were twice as likely to die compared to overweight or obese men. While the rate was not as high with women, they were still 32% more likely to die if they had stomach fat over simply being overweight.
“Waist size matters, particularly in people who are a normal weight,” said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a senior author on the study.
Dr. Lopez-Jimenez highlighted that while many people believe they are safe simply because they are not overweight, the study’s findings indicate that skinny people can be at even more of a risk than obese people. People who aren’t overweight can have a “false sense of safety or reassurance that they don’t need to exercise or they can eat whatever they want because they are “skinny,” said Dr. Lopez-Jimenez, “when in reality, if a person has a normal BMI and an abnormal waist size the risk is worse than if they have a high BMI.”
Risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks, was doubled in people with stomach fat compared to overweight women.
The study’s findings indicate that looking at BMI is not good enough in determining an individual’s health risk. Health professionals should take into account other aspects of weight gain beyond whether someone is overweight.
As well, people who are of normal weight should ensure that they do not have extra weight in their stomach areas by performing regular exercise and eating healthy food.