Studies show that people with large waists are more likely to die young and have cancer and heart issues. (Bigstock)
Body dimensions
As waist size increases, life expectancy may decline

THE QUESTION People’s weight and body mass index (a measure of fatness calculated from weight and height) are common predictors of cardiovascular and other health problems and even early death. Might waist measurements offer similar indications?

THIS STUDY analyzed data from 11 studies involving 650,386 adults, most in their early 60s at the start of the study. In a span of about nine years, 78,268 of the participants died. People with the largest waists were more likely to die at a younger age and from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease or cancer than were those with smaller waists. Men whose waists measured 43 inches or more were 52 percent more likely to have died during the study period than men with 35-inch waists; women with 37-inch or larger waists had an 80 percent higher mortality risk than those with waists of 28 inches or less. The chances of dying prematurely increased 9 percent for women and 7 percent for men for every two-inch increase in waist size. Compared with those who had the smallest waists, men with the largest waists had a life expectancy that was three years shorter; for women, five years shorter. The elevated likelihood of dying early applied across the board, affecting even people with normal BMIs.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with a large waist, which is usually an indicator of being overweight. In the United States, nearly 70 percent of people 20 and older are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk for numerous health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, gallstones and liver problems.

CAVEATS Most of the data on waist size came from measurements done by the participants. All participants were white; whether the findings apply to other races or ethnic groups remains unclear.

FIND THIS STUDY March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

LEARN MORE ABOUT the health risks of being overweight at (for “overweight and obesity,” click on “search publications”) and (look under “Health Topics,” and then “O”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.