Belly fat — especially hidden fat deep in the gut — may indicate increased risk for heart disease, a new study suggests.
The six-year study found people with a “spare tire” midsection had a greater risk for heart disease. That is compared to those with visible flab elsewhere or “love handles.”
The study looked at abdominal fat quantity and quality. However, it only showed an association between belly fat and potential heart disease. It does not prove that belly fat causes heart disease.
The study was led by Dr. Caroline Fox, a former senior investigator for the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Data was collected on 1,106 men and women, average age 45, who took part in the long-running Framingham Heart Study. All agreed to have their stomachs scanned to determine the amount of their belly fat.
The Framingham Heart Study
Over six years, the study found increases in the amount of fat and decreases in fat density were linked with changes in the risk for heart disease. Each additional pound of fat was associated with a newly developed symptom of cardiovascular disease.
Although increased fat was linked to new and worsening heart disease risk factors overall, the risk was greater for fat inside the abdomen, compared with fat just under the skin.
People whose deep stomach fat increased had significant rises in high blood sugar, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol, Fox’s team said. These associations remained significant even after the researchers accounted for changes in weight and waist size.
Abdominal tissue scanning vs. BMI
Some experts say identifying the location and type of body fat provides valuable information. Some say it is event better than information gathered from body mass index (BMI), a current tool that calculates body fat based on weight and height.
“This study supports a growing body of literature demonstrating that adipose tissue imaging provides important information about cardiovascular risk not contained in the measurement of BMI alone,” said Dr. Ian Neeland. He is an assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and co-author of an accompanying journal editorial.
Abdominal tissue scanning is emerging as a new way to assess heart disease risk and address many of the limitations of the simple BMI measurement, Neeland said. “It may be time to retire the BMI in favor of these novel adipose tissue deposits in clinical and research practice,” he added.
For more about heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Gregg Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; Ian Neeland, M.D., assistant professor, division of cardiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Sept. 26, 2016, Journal of the American College of Cardiology