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Having a large waist circumference may double a person’s risk of premature death.

People with a large waist circumference were roughly twice as likely to die prematurely compared to those with a smaller waist, according to a 2008 study. Notably, every two-inch increase in waist circumference increased the risk of premature death by 17 percent in males and 13 percent in females.

Researchers took various body measurements (body mass index [BMI], waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio) from nearly 360,000 adults enrolled in EPIC, an ongoing study in Europe. Then they investigated possible links between these measures and the risk of premature death over a period of about ten years.

They found that males who had a BMI of 25.3 and females who had a BMI of 24.3 were the least likely to die during the study period. However, a person’s waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio were strongly linked with the risk of dying, even after considering factors that influence risk, including BMI, educational level, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and height. For any given BMI, they noted that every five-centimeter (two-inch) increase in waist circumference markedly increased the risk of premature death.

A large waist circumference may be an indicator of visceral fat – body fat that is stored in the abdominal cavity and plays a central role in the links between obesity and systemic inflammation. Health experts recommend having a waist circumference of 40 inches or less for males and 35 inches or less for females.

Similarly, a large waist-to-hip ratio may increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization recommends having a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.9 or less for males and 0.85 or less for females.

See the Digest story below to learn how heavy drinking may influence waist circumference.

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