Central fat, the one that accumulates around the waist, seems to be a key indicator of higher mortality risk among women who are otherwise considered of normal weight. This is the message of a study, partly funded by NHLBI, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Network Open.
The researchers found that postmenopausal women with normal weight, as measured by their body mass index (BMI), but with central obesity – high accumulation of abdominal fat – have a risk of mortality similar to those of women who are considered obese, based on their BMIs.
The study used data from the NHLBI-funded Women's Health Initiative, which tracked the health of more than 156,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 from 1993 to 2017.
Women who were considered normal weight on the BMI scale but had a high waist circumference were found to be 31 percent more likely to die within the two-decade observation period. That's comparable to the 30 percent increased likelihood that an obese person with central obesity--considered to be in the highest risk group--will within 20 years of observation.
The study found that the two primary causes of death in people who had normal BMI but high waist size were cardiovascular disease and obesity-related cancer.