Surprisingly, bigger waists carry a greater risk of death even for people whose weight is “normal” by the body mass index, or BMI, a standard measure based on weight and height.
Other research has linked waist size to dementia, heart disease, asthma and breast cancer.
Bulging bellies are a problem for most Americans older than 50. It’s estimated that more than half of older men and more than 70 percent of older women have bigger waistlines than recommended. And it’s a growing problem: Average waistlines have expanded by about an inch per decade since the 1960s.
To check your girth, wrap a tape measure around your waist at the navel. Men should have a waist circumference no larger than 40 inches. For women, the limit is 35 inches.
The new study, appearing in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine, is the first to analyze waist size and deaths for people in three BMI categories: normal, overweight and obese. In all three groups, waist size was linked to higher risk.
About 2 percent of people in the study had normal BMI numbers but larger than recommended waists.
The study used data from more than 100,000 people who were followed from 1997 to 2006. Nearly 15,000 people died during that time.
The researchers crunched numbers on waist circumference, height and weight to draw conclusions about who was more likely to die. Four extra inches around the waist increased the risk of dying from between 15 percent to 25 percent. Oddly, the strongest link — 25 percent — was in women with normal BMI.
People with bigger waists had a higher risk of death from causes including respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer.
What can be done to fight belly fat? Eat fewer calories and burn more through walking, bicycling and other aerobic exercise.