Heart Care

Larger Waist Size Boosts Risk for Sudden Cardiac Death

People with a "spare tire" around their middle are at increased odds for sudden cardiac death, especially if they are obese.

Close-up photo of man's abdomen as he stands on bathroom scale

In fact, your waist size may be an even bigger risk factor than your weight, according to Selcuk Adabag, M.D., at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who led a study on this topic.

"The significance of this study is that it shows that abdominal obesity is an independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death, even after accounting for factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease," Dr. Adabag says.

Widespread problem

More than 250,000 people die from sudden cardiac death in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Sudden cardiac death usually happens within an hour of when symptoms begin. Risk factors include coronary heart disease, heart rhythm problems, and obesity.

Dr. Adabag looked at the health records of more than 15,000 people involved in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study in four U.S. locations and found that more than 300 participants had sudden cardiac death.

After screening for age, sex, race, education, smoking status, and family history of heart disease, he learned that body mass index, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio all were linked with sudden cardiac death.

Even after correcting for additional health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, and high cholesterol only the high waist-to-hip ratio remained as a link to sudden cardiac death.

Impact of belly fat

Dr. Adabag, who presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society, suspects that fat storage in the belly is to blame.

Belly fat releases substances that can cause inflammation, a common link to heart problems, he says.

Obesity a factor

Many people with apple-shaped bodies are also obese, a moderate risk factor for sudden cardiac death. In the U.S., two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese, according to the CDC.

A waist-to-hip ratio of more than 0.8 for women and 0.95 for men is considered unhealthy. A person with 35-inch hips and a 35-inch waist, for instance, would have a ratio of 1, which is undesirable.

The best way to get rid of fat around your middle is to reduce portion sizes, cut back on sugary foods, and get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Losing Weight

ChooseMyPlate.gov - Weight Management

Weight -control Information Network - Do You Know the Health Risks of Being Overweight?

July 2012

Healthy Strategies for Weight Loss

Long-term success at weight loss requires commitment, and time. Losing one-half to two pounds per week by eating better and exercising more is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.

Before you begin a weight-loss program, it's important to talk with your health care provider. He or she may give you an exercise stress test to see how your heart responds to increased physical activity. You also may want to talk with a registered dietitian about a menu plan based on your weight-loss goals and food preferences.

Calories in, calories out

Your weight is regulated by the number of calories you eat and use. Therefore, you gain weight when you eat more calories than you use, and you lose weight when you burn more calories than you store.

To lose one pound per week, you need to eat 500 fewer calories or burn 500 more calories per day than you normally do, which works out to a drop of 3500 calories per week - or one pound.

Move more

Physical activity can help you control weight loss by burning up excess calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.

Actively playing in the yard with your kids, mowing the lawn with a push mower, and raking leaves are moderate-intensity activities. On their own, they don't burn many calories, but when a combination of such activities lasts at least 60 minutes a day, they can make a difference.

More strenuous activities burn more calories than moderate ones. A brisk walk, swimming, and riding a bicycle are all good weight-loss activities.

Losing weight in a healthy way consists of eating better and being more physically active. And it should be fun.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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