A new medical study shows that excess belly fat, even if your body is skinny everywhere else, is more deadly than being overweight or obese. The report warns that as some doctors are not fully aware of this, patients should ask their doctor to review their body mass index (BMI), which is a calculation that measures body fat based on one’s height and weight.
Report co-author Dr. Lopez-Jimenez from the Mayo Clinic’s division of cardiology in Minnesota, says even if someone is considered skinny but their pants are hard to button, or their “low-riders” make a muffin top, they still need to watch their weight.
Study researchers estimate that men with “beer bellies” have twice the mortality risk of people who are just overweight or obese. Women with a similar fat distribution have 1.5 times the risk for death. The study involved 15,000 people.
"Keep in mind this doesn't give people license to eat anything they want to even out their fat," Lopez-Jimenez says. "I've gotten a few of those notes that say that is what some people plan to do. I hope they are joking."
Earlier studies show people with a large waist-to-hip ratio face a greater risk of diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease and other cardiac problems. The Mayo Clinic study is the first to quantify the risk of death
The type of fat that hangs out in the stomach area goes deep inside the body, wrapping around vital organs. In many cases the liver takes this fat, turning it into cholesterol that can slip into the bloodstream and start collecting along artery walls, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
This deep layer of fat is also to blame for one’s body becoming insulin-resistant.
The good news from the study is that having a dangerous waist-to-hip ration is not a permanent condition. Although researchers don't really have strong evidence yet on what exactly reduces fat in this area, following a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet, avoiding processed foods, cutting down on meat and eating plenty of vegetables, nuts and whole grains will help.
“What may be even more useful is to add some kind of resistance or weight training to your routine, anything that will help you improve your muscle mass, and not just for aesthetic reasons," says Lopez-Jimenez. "We are starting to think muscle mass may have some protective effects to prevent heart attacks and diabetes."