In case you still needed a reason to skip that Hardees triple deluxe burger: a new study has found that women with waists larger than 35 inches have a 79% greater chance of dying prematurely than those with a waist that measures 28 inches or less, regardless of whether the woman is obese or overweight. The Los Angeles Times writes that, according to the report, “[w]omen with the largest waists had twice the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease—even if their weight was normal—and a 63% greater chance of dying of cancer compared with women with smaller waists.”
The data, gathered by researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, consisted of 44,636 women at an average age of around 50, who were tracked over a period of 16 years. At the beginning, participants recorded their hip and waist measurements, and every two years they answered questionnaires about their health. Over the course of the study, 3,507 women died, with 1,748 succumbing to cancer and 751 to heart disease.
So what is it about belly fat (distinct from the fat inside the belly) that makes it so insidious, as opposed to fat on the thighs, arms, or buttocks? One theory, according to Dr. Cuilin Zhang, the lead author of the study, is that abdominal fat “exposes nearby organs to potentially toxic chemicals produced by the fat” in a way that buttock or thigh fat can’t. And, while only women were included in the study, men hardly get a free pass: a leading obesity researcher concluded from the study that since belly fat had such a great effect on women, men with large bellies likely also face a higher death risk. Cheeseburger, anyone?