August 10th, 2010
03:32 PM ET

Large waist may mean early death, even in normal weight people

Just an extra four inches on your waist may put you at greater risk of dying from heart disease, cancer or diabetes– even if you are of normal weight.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society followed more than 100,000 older people – ages 50 to 75 – for 9 years. Throughout the course of the study, participants were asked to measure their waistlines and report in.

"We found that those with biggest waistlines had twice the risk of dying than those with smaller waist size," said Eric Jacobs, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, and the lead study author. "Among normal weight women, the risk of dying increased 25 percent for each additional 4 inches of waist size."

At the heart of the tremendous increase in risk due to waist circumference is visceral adiposity, or belly fat deep inside the abdomen.

"The amount of deep abdominal fat is strongly related to metabolic problems," Jacobs said, "including higher cholesterol levels, higher insulin levels and higher rates of pro-inflammatory proteins."

Not to be confused with the belly fat you can pinch, he said, this visceral fat is below the abdominal muscles, and often surrounds the vital internal organs.

So is there anything you can do to reduce visceral belly fat? CNNHealth.com contributor Dr. Melina Jampolis says regular exercise can help.

"Visceral fat is more responsive to diet and exercise than subcutaneous fat, which is good," she said, "but just doing crunches won't get rid of it."

When it comes to nutrition, Jampolis says the key is carbs, like the ones found in breads and pastas.

"The most important thing is to cut back on refined carbohydrates. The visceral fat is very affected by the refined processed carbohydrates and sugars."

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Filed under: Cancer • Diabetes • Obesity

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Aaaaand this helps WHO exactly...

    August 10, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • charliem

      Are you really stupid enough to ask that? I'd estimate over 80% of Americans over 30 years of age fall into this category.

      September 12, 2010 at 16:40 | Report abuse |
  2. Barbara

    I hope we are not wasting our tax payers money for research like this. Fat is fat, no matter where it is, its not healthy. Next we be hearing that a huge booty may be bad for your back, or that a huge chest may be the cause of heart issues. Please, people know when they don't feel right and look bad. And they know to eat better. But it is up to them to decide. I am big-boned, what will that cause to happen? My waist is wide from bone structure and height. Stop trying to scare us, everything we eat and drink have some drawbacks. Its how much we put in ourselves that matters. And I don't eat pasta or breads, so, so much for the carbs.

    August 10, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      Big-boned is codeword for overweight. Really, its just personal validation so you can feel better about the way you look. Even if you were in the 20% of people that have larger than average bones it generally only affects a person by 10 pounds on the scale. You might have wide hips from skeletal structure, but that does not translate to a large waist. And clearly the research is wasted on people like you, who, even after confronted with evidence, directly contradict the conclusion of the research based on nothing but personal experience. Fat is not just fat, it DOES matter where it is.

      August 11, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      The American Cancer Society is not funded by the government.

      August 11, 2010 at 06:34 | Report abuse |
    • Oh Wow

      Mike, there are people much "bigger-boned" than average, and it does lead to wider hips and somewhat wider waist. Barbara doesn't sound "in denial" to me. But if any doubts, ask your doctor not only whether your weight is acceptable for health but what your measurements should "ideally" be.

      August 11, 2010 at 09:13 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      @ Oh Wow

      No, the "big boned" thing is a myth and just something use as an excuse to feel better about being overweight. Even if a person has abnormally large bones (we'll say 3 standard deviations) it would not significantly affect the size of their waist. How would I know? I have large (and dense) bones, and yet I don't use it as an excuse to allow myself to be fat.

      You're an enabler, stop helping people justify being fat and help them face the truth that they need to lose weight.

      August 11, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
    • Peg

      @ Mike – actually there are plenty of big boned people. My sister and I are the same height, but she has small bones while I have larger ones. I weight about 40 pounds more than she does, but I wear smaller size clothes (and most people think I weigh less than she does). Perhaps you should keep your mouth shut instead of proving that you're an uneducated idiot.

      August 11, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse |
    • @peg

      The difference between you and your sister could also be explained by muscle mass. Muscle is a lot leaner than fat, is dense, etc. I think before we begin intentionally insulting and offending others we should all take a few courses in anatomy.

      October 28, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
  3. KC

    Yes, I'm going to die early, but not because of my weight. I have a medical condition that plays havoc with my metabolism - I gained 20 pounds in one year without changing either my diet or my exercise routine (exercising over an hour a day). Add to that, some prescription medications have weight gain as a side effect - one made me gain 4 pounds in a single month! Even on a starvation diet of 800 calories a day, the weight won't come off ... though I get sicker because I'm not getting enough nutrition, so a doctor finally told me to eat properly - my health is more important than my weight. What's going to kill me is the underlying medical condition, which reduces immunity, causes heart problems and makes patients more susceptible to cancer/leukemia; on average, dying 20-25 years sooner than healthy siblings. That disease, not overeating, is going to kill me. And if I happen to eat some chocolate now and then because it makes me happy, too bad for the nutritionists.

    August 10, 2010 at 19:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NotRelevant

      Congratulations, you are going to die from something completely unrelated to this article. So glad you shared with us, it really put this article into perspective (I know its hard to read sarcasm, but try your best).

      August 11, 2010 at 00:29 | Report abuse |
    • Oh Wow

      All the best to you, KC! Ignore "NotRelevent," because hateful people are not relevant. I wish you the best and hope your underlying condition does not end up shortening your life. I hope your family and friends are supportive and understanding of your condition, because I know society is judgmental.

      August 11, 2010 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
    • 2true

      NotRelevent – KC is trying to explain that there are other factors besides a thick waist that lead to an early death. So, yeah, it does apply to this article.

      August 11, 2010 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • @KC

      hm, this is relevant because it suggests that the cause of the greater risk for earlier mortality is not necessarily where the fat is but that the fat is somehow associated with the greater risks. For example, there could be a third underlying factor that is causing both the greater fat around the waistline as well as the other problems such as heart disease, etc.

      October 28, 2010 at 19:25 | Report abuse |
    • Twiggy

      Wait a minute! You exercise an hour a day that's about 400 calories for a slow 12 minute per mile jog. You eat only 800. That leaves 400. Are you saying your body only uses 400 calories the rest of the day? Impossible unless you weigh only about 50 pounds.

      November 1, 2010 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
    • Twiggy

      I forgot about the 4 pounds you gained, that's about 250 calories per day that you're not burning. 800-400-300 = 150. You're telling us your body only burns 150 calories in the 23 hours you're not exercising. You're leaving out something.

      That 250 calories is based on protein. If you consider fat has 3500 calories per pound, that's about 500 calories per day. In that case 800-400-500 = -100. You need to analyze and measure your food intake more carefully, with a scale, measuring cups, nutrition lebels, etc., and use a computer to get good nutrition. It can only help you.

      November 1, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • Twiggy

      I should have said 800-400-250 = 150. There are plenty of cheap, easy to use computer programs out there, that you can use on your home PC or Mac. If you're size 10, you have to be burning more than 150 calories after you excersise. If yor life depends on conrolling your weight, learn how to measure your food and use a program to analyze it, like DWIDP – http://www.walford.com

      November 1, 2010 at 11:21 | Report abuse |
    • New Englander

      Don't give the naysayers any credence. I understand what you are saying. I was diagnosed with hashimoto's after 2 yrs of gaining weight at 40 lbs a year while working 8 hrs a day at work then working at night building our house. I was physically active at least 4 hrs a day and still gained while skipping dinner a lot of days to work. After seeing a good endo, I finally have the right meds on board after 4 more years of gains and tweaking doses we found the right mix of meds and am losing weight for the first time. It's all about the protein. I'm doing two protein shakes, one protein "shot" (proasis), a meal of 4 oz cooked meat and low carb veg and a salad in the evening. Comes to about 80 gms of protein and 1000 cal a day. If I eat less, I do not lose. My body needs something to run on! I am also swimming 4 days a week. I'm losing 3 lbs a week on average. I'm not saying it's easy. It stinks to be honest but I'm having a sleeve gastrectomy in August and then I'll have a great tool at my disposal, a tiny stomach 🙂 I have a great insurance plan happy to cover it to keep me from the doc's office as often. I hope your docs can help you find some peace and some comfort with your condition. If the one you have now isn't helping, shop around. I tried 7 docs before one listened and ultimately helped.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse |
  4. Jasmine

    From article: "We found that those with biggest waistlines had twice the risk of dying than those with smaller waist size."

    That's odd. I thought the odds of dying were 100% regardless of waist size.

    August 10, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lucy

      jasmine, that was hilarious!

      August 10, 2010 at 23:31 | Report abuse |
    • SeanNJ

      Kudos! Well played.

      August 11, 2010 at 12:02 | Report abuse |
  5. Susan Schumacher

    Dr. Gupta,

    We work with body contouring systems specifically targeting the waist. while doing so we discovered a fat blocker that was discovered at Wayne State University by 2 scientists. It is the only product we have run across that really seems to work by blocking between 500 and 700 fat calories a day from the diet with no side effects. It is derived from a corn fiber and actually becasue of its ability to absorb the bad dietary ftas lowers the LDL levels and tryglicerides whlle improving insulin sensitivity. You should share the information with yor listeners. We purchase it from the distributor in the United Sates which is Enerex USA and provide it to the users of our equipment. It even is safe for overweight children as studies were done on a 12 year old boy. It has been double blind tested at the University. It essentially puts you on a calorie restricted diet if you are unable to stop eating some of your favorite (but unhealthy) foods.

    August 11, 2010 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Wet Wolf

    Reducing bell fat around the mid-section will only benefit someone. Life extension is one of the many benefits. Want to try something really remarkable? Try eating more food but actually changing the foods you eat! My clients average a 2" loss of their waist in the first month alone by actually increasing the amount of food they eat.

    August 11, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Elizabeth Walling

    But HOW do we get rid of belly fat? By restoring our metabolic health! Endocrine imbalance is what causes fat gain around the midsection, and this needs to be addressed with appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes. STOP doing chronic cardio, drinking coffee all day, and eating miserable FAKE foods like Atkin's bars thinking these are going to help you lose weight. Instead address weight loss from a metabolic standpoint, getting plenty of rest, spending time outdoors and eating REAL food that fuels endocrine balance like grass-fed butter, eggs, coconut, fruit and other delicious healing foods. In fact, grass-fed meat and dairy contains tons of CLA, which has been shown to banish belly fat!

    August 11, 2010 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Schwe

    There are exceptions to the rules but there are also "Big Boned" people who remain in denial. I was at a conference where the presenter recommended eating small amounts of healthy food througout the day and the lad in front of me insisted it wouldn't work. She was a rather "Big Boned" person who had worked her way through a snickers bar and a high-fat granola bar during the presentation.

    PS – Not surprisngly some of these Sound Off comments appear to be advertisements for weight loss drugs etc.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. bob in calif

    When an article states that there was a greater risk of dying, it means that a higher percentage of people afflicted with the condition died than actuarial tables would predict. These tables will tell you for any given age what percentage of a group (say 45 year olds) can be expected to die that year; say 1.5%. Now if 1.7% of the people with large waste lines died in that year; that would be 9.52% more than expected.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. sherry

    I am overweight and could stand to lose a few pounds so lets put that aside a second. I am also 'big boned' as you call it. I wear a size 10.5 'C' width shoe and a size 9 glove. My hands are larger than many men. I am also tall. When i was very thin and working as a fulltime model many years ago My hands and feet were still the same size and i could not work for a wig company becuase they said my skull was large and the wigs did not fit . and I still considered myself to be big boned even though I was clinically under weight at 138lbs and 5'9". My ancestors were russian women with large frames. So all those who say big boned = fat , not true sorry.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KC

      Precisely, Sherry. I will NEVER be a size 2 - at 108 pounds, basically skin and bones, I still needed a size 12 because of my linebacker shoulders and hips to match. They tell you women go up a size with every 10 pound weight gain - I was able to go up 40-50 pounds before the size 12s didn't fit any more.

      August 11, 2010 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
  11. bob in calif

    For those really interested in how this study was done see


    August 11, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kraig Rasool

    This is the kind of story that needs to have promotional people on the corners asking "Do you have minute for losing weight"?Of course by society standards this would be the most horrible question on the planet...not only would people call you rude, but they would even use profanity....yet this is what people need, talk about reality!! Its in black and white you will pass from
    the planet you sooo love ...where you text, laugh, cry, google, play with the kids, etc...I also blame the media for the programming of food day and night....THe fast food restaraunts have a huge portion of night-time commercials begging you to come out and eat their fixins (its amazing).... This article should get 5 golden stars for its writer.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jeff

    If we all get fat and die sooner, won't that help with the Social Security problems by making for far fewer recipients?

    I'm gonna have a steak.

    August 11, 2010 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. 2true

    New study shows correlation between waist and death - anyone with a waist will die. "We found that those with biggest waistlines had twice the risk of dying than those with smaller waist size," Sorry folks, we're all dying. A smaller waistline will not prevent death. I really wish these articles would be more accurate. I figure they mean will die earlier as stated in the catch line, but how much so? If I shave four inches off my waist will I live one year longer, two, twenty? All my fat, smoking, drinking relatives lived to be in their late seventies to late eighties. I just want to know if it's worth all the effort.

    August 11, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • @2true

      Might be worth the effort if you feel better. You might feel better emotionally, etc even if you do not necessarily live longer.. You can't be certain about these things as there are simply to many factors.

      October 28, 2010 at 19:34 | Report abuse |
  15. Bigtony

    Life ends when you hit 30 anyway so live it up while you can!

    August 11, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BK

      Speak for yourself if you're that unimaginative. I'll still be living it up when I'm twice that.

      August 11, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse |
    • JP

      Your an idiot life expectency is more than double the age of 30 yrs for an human. Maybe your life will end at 30 but I hope everyone else on this forum lives a full life.

      August 12, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse |
    • New Englander

      Oh, no it doesn't! I hated my thirties but the 12 yrs since I turned 40 have been wonderful 🙂 When you get here you'll see. There's a whole new world in middle age these days if we put down the remote and get out there! In fact, you don't have to be middle aged. Put down the remote and get out there!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:32 | Report abuse |
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