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Waist-Hip and Waist-to-Height Ratios
Are Significant Health Indicators

Checking a person's waist-hip and waist-to-height ratio is a more significant indicator of health than the standard Body Mass Index (BMI).

Biomarkers such as waist-hip and waist-to-height ratios are linked to cardiovascular function, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL and total cholesterol as well as well-being. However, BMI is not a reliable biomarker for any of these health indicators since is cannot decipher between fat and muscle.

Canadian researchers studied more than 27,000 people in 52 countries and concluded that using waist-to-hip ratio instead of BMI to measure obesity increases by three-fold the number of people considered to have a risk of heart attack.

Almost nine in 10 people are not aware of the risks of carrying extra fat around their waistline. A survey of 12,000 Europeans found most had no idea that a thick waist was a sign of a build-up of a dangerous type of fat around the internal organs.

Report author Dr Terry Maguire, honorary senior lecturer at Queen's University in Belfast, said people did not know that visceral fat, which you cannot see or feel and which sits around the organs in the abdomen, is there or that it poses a problem.

It is thought that the danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter the liver, and affect how the body breaks down sugars and fats.

Only a quarter of those questioned in the Europe-wide study thought being overweight was a risk to long-term health at all.

"Most overweight people still see themselves as having a body image issue not a health problem and they need to understand the health benefits of weight loss as well as the cosmetic results," he said.

Research has shown that waist circumference is a good indicator of visceral fat and therefore of a person's risk of diseases associated with being overweight, such as type 2 diabetes.

The report pointed out that when weight is lost visceral fat is more easily broken down for energy than the fat immediately under the skin and even a small amount of weight loss can cause a difference.

When asked about losing weight, two-thirds of respondents said they would go on a diet in the New Year.

But the report's co-author Professor David Haslam, chair of the UK National Obesity Forum, cautioned that steady sustainable weight loss is important and that crash diets were likely to be unsuccessful.

"They can actually do more harm than good," he said.

"Invariably weight is put back on, with some of the weight regained accumulating as visceral fat."

Professor Steve Field, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said most of the focus in recent years had been on weight.

"It is the weight around your belly which really does the harm.

"A lot of these things take a while to get into people's heads especially as there has been so much focus on weight and body mass index.

"I'm not surprised at the findings because it will take more than a few academic papers to really change people's minds."

January 5, 2010


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