Health buzz: Being 'skinny fat' is more fatal than being fat

Are You 'Skinny Fat'?
Are You 'Skinny Fat'?

Call it a paunch, a food baby or just a belly – extra fat around your middle doesn't just threaten your pants button or stand between you and washboard abs. It also shortens your life, finds a study published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study, which analyzed data from 15,184 American adults over a median of 14.3 years, looked at how body mass index (or a height-to-weight ratio) and belly fat (defined by a waist-to-hip ratio) predict mortality. The researchers from the Mayo Clinic and other institutions around the world found that people who weighed a normal amount for their heights but who were obese around their middles were more likely to die ​than people with any other body types. Men with normal BMIs but "central obesity," for example, had twice the mortality risk of men who were overweight or obese according to BMI only.

In other words: Sporting excess fat around your waistline only seems to be more deadly than carrying excess fat all over. That's significant, the authors say, since professional guidelines only recommend measuring patients' waists if they're overweight or obese, and don't recommend measuring waist-to-hip ratio at all. "Our findings suggest that persons with normal-weight central obesity may represent an important target population for lifestyle modification and other preventive strategies," they write in the journal article.

Why might a round middle be so dangerous, despite a healthy-looking physique elsewhere? For one, that type of fat accumulation is associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as less muscle mass in the legs. People with a lot of fat that's better distributed into, say, a pear-shaped figure, on the other hand, tend to have healthier metabolisms, other research has shown. "This may explain the unexpected better survival in overweight or obese persons, even among those who were centrally obese," the authors write.

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