Even if the scale says your weight is in the acceptable range, your belly could be telling a different story. Recent studies have found that those with a normal weight who have excess belly fat are putting the same risk on their lives as those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. We were as shocked at the news as you are.
John Cloud recently wrote about this research for Time. Cloud reported on the findings of a 14-year study led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez – a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Lopez-Jimenez concluded that those who have a normal weight but have concentrated “central” or belly fat are more than 50 percent more likely to die earlier from issues like cardiovascular disease and other ailments than those who are obese.
This conclusion was found after researchers followed nearly 13,000 Americans for 14 years. The test subjects were divided up into categories based on their Body Mass Index (BMI) and their waist-to-hip ratios. At the end of the study, approximately 2,500 subjects had died. The analysis of the deceased found that those in the normal BMI/high waist-to-hip ratio group had the highest mortality rate. These mortality risk rates were compared to smokers who smoke nearly one pack of cigarettes a day. These are pretty staggering rates for people who aren’t even overweight.
These statistics were alarming and even a bit confusing to researchers. Dr. Lopez-Jimenez gave three possible reasons why belly fat is so extremely hazardous to one’s health. First, belly fat is different than other fat because it is called visceral fat and those cells are more likely to release hormones that encourage insulin resistance. This causes increased risk for diabetes.
Second, other types of fat, like the fat found in the legs or buttocks for example, are associated with healthier metabolism. And third, belly fat seems to indicate lower muscle mass. Individuals tend to have lower muscle mass from lack of exercise, which can often lead to physical ailments.
In short, the scale is still a good place to evaluate most major changes in your health. However, these findings prove they don’t necessarily determine that you’re in the clear. In short, avoid smoking at all costs, try to maintain a healthy weight, and keep an eye on your waistline – it may be more dangerous to your health than you think.