A healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) was previously thought to be a very good indication of your risks for cardiovascular disease, but more recent research has shown that a healthy range BMI can be quite misleading.
One study presented at the 2012 European Society of Cardiology Congress reviewed several studies that showed belly fat, also known as visceral fat, was much more dangerous to your health than previously thought. Visceral fat is the kind of fat that surrounds your internal organs, and is not accounted for in the usual BMI measures.
The BMI takes into account height and weight, but does not account for how much belly fat a person has. One way to account for belly fat is to measure a person’s hip-to-waist ratio. The study showed alarming results: a person with a NORMAL BMI with high abdominal obesity had a higher risk of cardiovascular death than a person in the OVERWEIGHT BMI range. Further, and even more worrying, a person with a NORMAL BMI and high abdominal obesity had a 2.75 times higher risk than one with a normal BMI and normal hip-to-waist ratio.
“We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important even in people with a normal weight,” says senior author Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
“This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on body mass index. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding.”
How Can I Find Out My Hip-to-Waist Ratio, and What is “Normal”?
A hip-to-waist ratio is easily obtained by measuring your hips at their widest section, and your waist at its smallest (usually just above the belly button). Then take the waist measurement and divide it by the hip measurement.
Another way to get your ratio is by using this calculator provided by the University of Maryland.
Now, What is “Normal”?
The featured study used the following waist-to-hip ratio designations:
- Normal = 0.85 or below in women, and 0.90 or below in men
- High = 0.85 or greater in women, and 0.90 or greater in men
Another way to find out if you should be concerned about belly fat includes measuring your waist alone. Measure the smallest section of your waist, below the ribs and just above the belly button.
Waist size will give a good indication of the amount of fat you’re carrying, especially in the stomach area. This visceral fat is considered an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke. Your risk for diabetes can also be predicted by waist size measurement, as it indicates insulin sensitivity.
A general guide to interpreting waist measurement:
- For men, between 37 and 40 inches is overweight and more than 40 inches is obese
- For women, between 31.5 and 34.6 inches is overweight, and more than 34.6 inches is obese
Finally, measuring body fat percentage is a good way of determining whether you have a healthy body size. This can be measured using body fat calipers, best done by your health professional, or using a body fat digital scale.
The American Council on Exercise recommends the following guidelines:
Percent Body Fat Norms for Men and Women
Why Should I Worry About My Body Fat?
Too much body fat, as well as too little body fat, can have enormous consequences on your health. High body fat has been linked to heart-related problems such as: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, as well as diabetes and cancer.
Too little body fat can cause the essential body tissues to break down, in extreme cases causing organ failure and death.
How Do I Lose Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is affected more by diet than exercise. In other words, you can’t really do enough sit-ups to fix this issue if you have an unhealthy diet. The ideal approach for overall health is to get professional nutritional advice to correct dietary issues and possibly identify supplements that may help, and create an exercise routine that can become part of your life on a habitual basis. Low carb diets are particularly effective at reducing belly fat for most people, but before you make any major dietary change, speaking to your doctor just makes sense.