Loathe your love handles? A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the extra belly fat isn’t just an eyesore; it can increase your risk of an early death .
While the link between extra belly padding and health problems has been long established, this new study is the first to show such a powerful link between pant size and death risk.
For the study, researchers from Imperial College London studied almost 360,000 people from nine European countries. The average age of participants at study onset was 51. Across the 10 year study period, 14,723 study participants died.
Analyzing mortality rates by waist size, the study finds that men with waists exceeding 47 inches had rates of death double that of their peers with waists under 31.5 inches. Similar statistics were observed among women with waists exceeding 39 inches when compared to those under 25.5 inches. In fact, the relationship between waist size and death risk was so strong that when comparing people with the same body mass index, the researchers determined that every additional 2 inches on the waistline increased the risk of death 17% for men and 13% for women.
Although the researchers concede that the reasons behind the link aren’t clear, a researcher from the German Institute of Human Nutrition at Potsdam-Rehbrucke suggested that abdominal fat may be unlike other forms of fat in that it is capable of releasing messenger substances that promote the development of chronic disease.
Noting that “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 researchers recommend that people be particularly mindful of excess fat accumulation around the abdominal area. The better news? The added poundage around the middle doesn’t have to be confirmed by an expensive test or some mind numbing algorithm. Rather, you can monitor your waistline by simply keeping an eye on how your clothes fit and take steps to cut back if your waistband starts feeling particularly tight.
So what can you do to prevent the waistline expansion? The key is to maintain a healthy diet and exercise program  that allows you to maintain a healthy body weight. However, since we know that even people with the same BMIs can have dramatically different body shapes, it’s important to include interventions that specifically target the waistline. For example, a recent study suggests  that a diet rich in protein, red meat and fiber was best at helping to reduce abdominal fat in men. Sound familiar? Now pair it with a plan that keeps you active and adding notches to your belt (for weight gain people – get your mind out of the gutter!) and the death threats associated with an extra tire around the middle shouldn’t even be an issue!