A strong new report demonstrates that waist/hip ratio appears to predict heart disease risk better than body weight does. This is valuable stuff for several reasons. Let's look.
Bottom line first
The ratio of your waist to hip circumference is linked more closely to clogged arteries than body weight is.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers following 2,700 adults, average age 45, observed a direct link between waist/hip ratio and arterial build-up. There was no cutoff between high and low risk: Highest ratios were linked with highest risk, lowest with smallest; risk/ratio were linked directly at all points between.
Yes, but. . .
There are few caveats here. Researchers used imaging technologies to "view" the inside of subjects' arteries. They measured BMI, waist/hip ratios and weight directly. The study sample was large and multi-ethnic.
This view of two years of data can't tell whether those with highest waist/hip ratios will be more likely to die or have cardiac events. The continuing study may eventually produce that data.
So what are you going to do about it?
Measure your waist circumference (relaxed, at the widest point). Same with your hips. The bigger your waist is compared to your hips, the higher the risk.
If your waist grows bigger compared to your hips over time, your heart risk will go up. While the current study didn't test the hypothesis, reducing waist size appears likely to cut your risk.
While some evidence suggests hip fat may be protective of heart disease, "improving" your ratio by growing your hips while keeping your belly size constant is very hard to pull off and, frankly, a strange diversion of energy you could put into eating better and exercising more.
There's no such thing as "spot reduction"--i.e., the ability to trim fat from a specific body part. If you work your abs harder to try to reduce your belly size, you'll strengthen the muscles underneath the fat. You won't cut the fat.
Previous studies, but not this one, show a higher risk of various obesity-related illnesses--high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease--linked with waist sizes greater than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women. If your waist size is greater than these, use this measurement as a loud wake-up call.
The takeaway: eat healthy, move more. But we've known that all along, haven't we?
For expert advice and group support, visit our Diet & Exercise and Heart Health section.