Bigger Belly? Bigger Problems

Belly fat risk factor for heart disease, cancer

button missing from man's shirt with big belly

A big belly may lead to big health problems.

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People with excessive belly fat are at greater risk of heart disease and cancer than those who carry fat in other areas of their body, says a new study.

Location key factor in developing disease

David Frid, MD, did not take part in the study but is a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic. He says location of the fat is the primary factor.

“People who had body fat that was more internal — more within the abdomen than on the surface —were more likely to develop problems with cardiovascular disease and cancer,” says Dr. Frid.

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What the study found

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital used CT scans to identify areas of fat accumulation in nearly 3,100 people. About half of the participants were women of an average age of 50.

Results show abdominal fat was the common denominator in the 90 cardiovascular events, 141 cancer cases and 71 deaths that occurred during the study.

Fat around internal organs dangerous

Abdominal fat is typically an indicator of fat around internal organs. Researchers say the location of body fat may elevate one’s risk for heart disease and cancer.

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Dr. Frid agrees and says action is needed. Given the worldwide obesity epidemic, identification of high-risk people is important to allow targeting of preventive and therapeutic measures.

“We’re seeing if we can differentiate people who are obese, who may be at a little bit higher risk,” says Dr. Frid. “With those people we need to be even more aggressive than people who are obese but have fat in other places.”

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