Health Risks Associated With Bigger Waistlines

Health Risks Associated With Bigger Waistlines

"Gandolfini was a big guy. There are tons of guys like him out there, and we don't usually consider them especially unhealthy. But deaths like his can be prevented, and that's part of the tragedy of his early passing."


On Friday the autopsy report on the death of James Gandolfini was released confirming that he died of a heart attack. Donna Arnett, the president of the American Heart Association, told USA Today that heart attack and cardiac arrest are often used interchangeably, but they're quite different. A heart attack is caused by a blockage that keeps blood from flowing to the heart, while cardiac arrest is an "electrical failure" in the heart. A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest, but it's not the same. And while both can be caused by a hereditary heart condition, a heart attack is often caused by health problems unrelated to the heart itself -- high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, among others. 

James Gandolfini passed too soon, and there are far too many deaths like his every year in the United States. One study claims that three out of every 1,000 American men aged 45-54 will have a heart attack every year. Gandolfini was a big guy. There are tons of guys like him out there, and we don't usually consider them especially unhealthy. But deaths like his can be prevented, and that's part of the tragedy of his early passing.

Researchers continue to find evidence that a bigger waistline is a predictor of poor health -- especially poor heart health. However, it's shocking how much a bigger waistline can affect your entire body's health, literally from head to toe. If there's one part of your body to focus on keeping in fighting shape, it's your midsection. Here’s a roundup of recent findings, all of which indicate the health risks associated with bigger waistlines.  


Heart failure


A recent study suggests that and bigger waistline is a setup for heart failure in midlife and beyond. Even when body mass index (BMI) is normal, a bigger waist can lead to poor heart health. The study showed that men with a normal BMI of 25 had a 16% increased risk of developing heart failure from a 3.94-inch increase in waist size. The study included 43,487 men aged 45 to 79. Add more body weight and the risk increases to 18%. Those are health risks associated with bigger waistlines we can live without.


Restless leg syndrome


Restless Leg Syndrome affects approximately 5% to 10% of the U.S. population with symptoms ranging from consistent discomfort to major problems sleeping. A study published in the April 7, 2009, print issue of Neurology, revealed that people with bigger waistlines are more likely to experience restless leg syndrome. Lack of sleep in turn leads to poor performance and an overall decrease in one’s quality of life. Some research also suggests that short sleep duration leads to more weight gain, further increasing the cascade of health risks associated with bigger waistlines.


Periodontal disease


Another health risk associated with bigger waistlines is periodontal disease, which involves inflammation of the tissue around your teeth. Investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Puerto Rico report that men with waist circumference of 40 inches, compared to men with waist size less than 40 inches, had a 19% increased risk of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is associated with increased risk of poor health from systemic inflammation that also increases heart disease and diabetes risk -- and possibly cancer -- again showing the link between health risks and bigger waists.


Decreased lung function


A study published in the March 2009 issue of the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine shows that a bigger waistline leads to decreased lung function, regardless of smoking history, gender, BMI, or other complicating factors. Paul Enright, M.D., of the University of Arizona, said in an accompanying editorial to the study, "[This] study demonstrated that only mild abdominal adiposity, even with a normal body mass index (BMI), is associated with lower FVC” (forced expiratory vital capacity).


Higher mortality


The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a wide European study from November 2008, showing that the risk of premature death is also linked to a bigger waistline. For each 1.94-inch increase in waist circumference, mortality risk increased by 17% in men. It really adds up: Men whose waist size was 47.2 inches had double the risk of early death. Each 0.1 unit higher waist-to-hip ratio was related to a 34% higher mortality risk in men.


Migraine headaches


Bigger waistlines also mean more chance of suffering from migraines, which become more common depending on

the way your body fat is distributed. Bigger waist size, even without overall obesity, increased the risk of severe headache or migraine in a study of 22,211 people. Twenty percent of men with abdominal obesity, aged 20 to 55, reported migraine headaches, compared to 16% of men who had smaller waists, in a study published in February 2009. Because of the study, author, B. Lee Peterlin, D.O., of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA, suggests: “Losing weight in the stomach area may be beneficial for younger people who experience migraine.”


Waistline warning


Athletes who gain weight for a competitive advantage might even be setting themselves up for later health risks linked to bigger waist size. Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University said: "We understand these athletes want to be big, but they can't assume all their weight gain is lean mass just because they're lifting weights and taking protein supplements.”

Don’t be surprised if your doctor measures your waist as part of your regular checkup. Keeping a slimmer waistline can ensure better overall health, regardless of BMI. Studies continue to show multiple health risks associated with having a bigger waistline.


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