Apple body shape linked to increased risk of death, study shows

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New research shows women with a healthy BMI but apple body shape may be at increased risk of death and other health issues. Source: Pixabay

While women around the world have been told to embrace their curves, new research claims normal-weight women with more of an apple-shaped body are at higher risk of death when compared with similar sized women with different body shapes.

The new study, published in the JAMA Journal by researchers from the University of Iowa, found waist size is just as important as body mass index (BMI) when it comes to obesity-related health risks and that some people considered to be a normal weight could unknowingly be putting their health at risk.

In fact, the study showed that a subgroup of people who are considered to be normal weight as measured by their BMI could actually be at high risk for death because of their waist size.

Researchers found women in the normal weight range, who measure more than 88cm around the waist, are at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer compared with normal-weight women without this central obesity. These people are also at increased risk of dying from other causes.

According to current clinical guidelines, many physicians only rely on BMI to determine obesity-related health risk, but this could leave people who are actually in a high-risk group thinking they’re healthy.

“The results suggest we should encourage physicians to look not only at body weight but also body shape when assessing a patient’s health risks,” the study’s corresponding author Wei Bao said in a statement.

Researchers analysed data from the 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. They also linked mortality rates to each participant’s BMI and central obesity – which is the excess accumulation of fat around a person’s midsection. Central obesity has previously been linked to an array of health issues.

The results found that women who are considered to be normal weight based on their BMI results but had a high waist circumference were 31 per cent more likely to die within the 20-year observational period. In contrast, an obese person with central obesity – which would put them in the highest risk group – had a 30 per cent increased risk of dying within the two-decade observation period.

Obesity-related cancer and cardiovascular disease were the two primary causes of death in postmenopausal women who had normal BMI but high waist size.

The study is the largest to identify women with normal weight central obesity as a high-risk subgroup for death. Researchers now say that there are limitations of BMI when determining a person’s risk for health problems because it only considers height and weight and doesn’t consider other important factors such as percentage of body fat or where the fat is on the body.

At present, the BMI test is the standard for health care providers and health policy makers when it comes to evaluating obesity-related health issues.

“People with normal weight based on BMI, regardless of their central obesity, were generally considered normal in clinical practice according to current guidelines,” Bao said. “This could lead to a missed opportunity for risk evaluation and intervention programs in this high-risk subgroup.”

It’s not the first study to link the apple body shape to other health issues. A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found the risk of a heart attack is greatly increased for women with apple-shaped bodies. The results found that for both sexes, the waist-to-hip ratio was a more accurate indicator of a heart attack risk than obesity in general.

Overall, it was women with the classic apple figure who were more likely to suffer a heart attack or other complications.

What kind of body shape do you have? Do you think health professionals need to consider more than the BMI when determining the risk of health issues?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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