Overweight and obesity are often cited as risks for premature death. A new study suggests that people of normal weight who have belly fat are not immune—and may face even greater risk than heavier people with BMI-defined obesity.

The study, which was part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), aimed to determine the relationships among BMI, body fat distribution and mortality rates among 15,184 adults aged 18–90.

After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that normal-weight individuals with belly fat had a greater early-mortality risk than both normal-weight adults with no belly fat and over-weight or obese adults with BMI-defined obesity.

“A man with a normal BMI and central obesity had greater total mortality risk than one with similar BMI but no central obesity, and . . . twice the mortality risk of participants who were overweight or obese according to BMI only,” the authors reported.

The increased risk was similar for women, but less severe. For example, normal-weight men with belly fat were 87% more likely to die than normal-weight men without belly fat; for normal-weight women, the risk was 50% higher
with belly fat.

The study was published in Annals of Internal Medicine (2015; doi:10.7326/M14-2525).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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