Large waist nearly doubles risk of premature death

In collaboration with the Press Association

European scientists have found that having a large waistline can almost double a person's risk of dying prematurely, even if their body mass index (BMI) is 'normal'.

The study, which looked at 359,387 people from nine European countries, suggests that doctors should measure a patient's waistline and hips as well as calculating their BMI when carrying out standard health checks.

The new research forms part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), one of the largest long-term prospective studies in the world, which is part-funded by Cancer Research UK.

Lead author Dr Tobias Pischon, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrucke, said: "The most important result of our study is the finding that not just being overweight, but also the distribution of body fat, affects the risk of premature death of each individual.

"Abdominal fat is not only a mere energy depot, but it also releases messenger substances that can contribute to the development of chronic diseases. This may be the reason for the link."

Researchers from a number of European institutions, including Imperial College London, found that among people with the same BMI, the risk of premature death increases in a linear fashion as waist circumference increased.

People with a larger waist in excess of 120cm for men and 100cm for women had around double the risk of premature death when compared against people with a smaller waist (less than 80cm for men and 65 for women).

For every additional 5cm in waist circumference, the risk of death increased by 17 per cent in men and 13 per cent in women.

A person's waist-to-hip ratio was also found to influence mortality risk. Every additional 0.1 unit increase in waist-to-hip ratio was linked with a 34 per cent higher mortality risk in men and a 24 per cent higher risk in women.

Commenting on the findings, which are published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Elizabeth Spencer, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and one of the study's authors, said: "This large European study clearly shows that a large waist - as well as being overweight - seriously increases the risk of death. Even if people have a normal body weight for their height, extra weight around the abdomen increases risk.

"If doctors were to focus on waist and hip circumferences as well as body weight it could be an effective addition to routine medical practice."

Professor Elio Riboli from Imperial College London's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health , who also worked on the study, said that he was "surprised" by how powerful the effect of waist size appears to be on health and premature death risk.

The expert, who coordinated the study, said: "Our study shows that accumulating excess fat around your middle can put your health at risk even if your weight is normal based on body mass index scores. There aren't many simple individual characteristics that can increase a person's risk of premature death to this extent, independently from smoking and drinking."

The professor continued: "The good news is that you don't need to take an expensive test and wait ages for the result to assess this aspect of your health - it costs virtually nothing to measure your waist and hip size.

"If you have a large waist, you probably need to increase the amount of exercise you do every day, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and improve your diet. This could make a huge difference in reducing your risk of an early death."

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