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Study finds belly fat linked to early death, regardless of weight

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No love for the love handles.

Fat stored around the belly is a strong indicator of disease and premature death, even when there’s relatively less body fat overall, according to a new report which combines data from more than 2.5 million individuals from around the world.

The new study is the largest of its kind, and supports previous research pointing to belly fat specifically as an early sign of illness, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This type of fat is a better metric than weight or body mass index alone to determine health outcomes, according to the study published in the journal BMJ Wednesday.

Also central to their findings was the revelation that chunky hip and thigh size is associated with a lower risk of early death.

The collaborative study by researchers in Canada and Iran included 72 past studies, with reporting from more than 2.5 million international participants, some of whom contributed for up to 24 years. During that time, they were asked to report on a variety of health factors, and track at least three different metrics for what study authors call “central fatness,” including waist-to-hip ratio and body measurements.

The overall results of their analysis showed that almost any increase in belly fat was associated with a higher risk of “all-cause mortality,” meaning death for any reason linked to disease.

The difference was measurable: They found that a 4-inch increase in waist circumference would account for an 11% spike in all-cause mortality. On the other hand, the same degree of gain in the hips was associated with a 10% decrease in premature death. And a 2-inch bump in the thighs lowered the risk by 18%.

While scientists could not conclude why belly fat appears particularly deadly, other studies have suggested that visceral fat, which collects around the lining of abdominal organs rather than below the skin at the waistline, may be a key factor — and that’s hard to spot even for doctors.

“Somebody might not look overweight . . . or even look like they have a big beer belly,” according to Dr. Rekha Kumar, endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, who was not involved in the present study. “Some people are genetically prone to storing more fat around the belly,” she told The Post last year.

Going forward, the new report suggests that measures for central fatness should be used as a supplementary indicator of early death.

As to how to stave off a muffin top, genetics play a big role, but Kumar suggests that a low-carb and sugar diet, plus plenty of sleep and exercise, are proven to help reduce belly fat.

She also advises patients to cut back on drinking: “When our body is breaking down alcohol, it’s usually not breaking down body fat — because our liver is busy.”



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