It turns out, not all fat is created equal. While the evidence continues to accrue that obesity increases the risk of developing cancer – along with other chronic diseases – a growing number of studies point to abdominal fat as the greatest culprit.
Now, a large study of almost 360,000 participants coordinated by Elio Riboli, MD, one of the key scientific contributors to AICR’s expert report, has found that a large waistline almost doubles the risk of an early death, even when the body mass index reads in the “normal” range. Body mass index (BMI) is the most-commonly used measure of obesity.
The new study adds strong evidence that people and health practitioners need to look at body shape along with BMI. BMI takes into account height and weight, but not body shape or location of adipose tissue.
Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), in contrast, provide measures of girth that focus on the amount of fat concentrated around the middle. (Waist-to-hip ratio is the waist circumference divided by hip circumference.) Lower WHRs mean that the waist is relatively small compared to the hips.
The study, published in last month’s New England Journal of Medicine , comes from one the largest investigations of diet and cancer ever undertaken (see box). After tracking the large group of European participants for an average of almost ten years, the researchers found that those with the largest waist circumference had almost twice the risk of dying as those with the smallest.
The higher the waist circumference; the greater the risk of death. A higher WHR was also linked to an increased mortality risk in both men and women.
Called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition , or EPIC, the ongoing study is the largest investigation of diet and health ever undertaken. The study began in the early 1990s with 520,000 participants from 10 European countries. A few of its key findings include:
- High amounts of red and processed meat increase colorectal cancer risk; fish consumption decreases risk
- A diet high in fiber reduces colorectal cancer risk
- Overweight and low physical activity increase breast cancer risk after menopause.
The EPIC findings also support a wide body of research – including AICR’s expert report – showing the health dangers of excess body fat. Participants with a high BMI, compared with those in the medium range, died more often from cardiovascular diseases or from cancer. The lowest risk of death was at a BMI of approximately 25.3 in men and 24.3 in women.
“Although smaller studies have suggested a link between mortality and waist size, we were surprised to see the waist size having such a powerful effect on people’s health and premature death,” said Dr. Riboli.
For strategies to lose excess fat and/or maintain a healthy weight, learn more @ The e-Diet, the premiere online diet, fitness, and healthy living destination Ranked #1 by Epicurious.com, Forbes magazine, and PC Magazine
“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,” said Dr. Riboli, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College London, according to the university’s statement.
Don’t know what your waistline measures?
Place a tape measure around your waist above the tip of your hipbone. Have tape snug against your bare skin. Exhale and take a look.
For women, a waist measurement of 31.5 inches or more indicates high cancer risk.
For men, a waist measurement of 37 inches or more indicates high cancer risk.