Belly Fat More Dangerous in Older Women Than Being Overweight
While a few extra pounds doesn't up death risk, weight around the middle does, study contends.
Thursday, February 23, 2017. (HealthDay News) -- In older women, it's not excess weight that's deadly, but where those extra pounds collect that can shorten life, a new study reports. Among women 70 to 79, being overweight or obese didn't appear to cut years off life -- unless the weight was centered around the waist. But being underweight also appeared to shorten life span, researchers found."Abdominal fat is more deadly than carrying excess weight," said lead researcher Zhao Chen. She's chair of the University of Arizona's department of epidemiology and biostatistics in the College of Public Health.
Chen added, "An older woman should be concerned when her body weight is below normal for her height, and less concerned when she is slightly heavier than normal."
The researchers found that the risk of mortality increased when waist circumference measured more than 31.5 inches (80 centimeters), and they classified anything above nearly 35 inches (88 centimeters) as an "extreme risk." The study looked at weight by using body mass index (BMI) measurements. BMI is a rough estimate of a person's body fat based on height and weight measurements. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight. Below 18.5 is underweight, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.
In general, these findings suggest that being underweight is more detrimental in older women, and being slightly heavier in later life could be beneficial, she said. For the study, Chen and her colleagues reviewed data on nearly 162,000 women aged 50 to 79 who took part in the Woman's Health Initiative, a major study on postmenopausal women by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Higher waist circumference was consistently tied to higher death rates during the study.
Dr. Jill Rabin is co-chief of the division of ambulatory care in Women's Health Programs-PCAP Services at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She believes that these findings can be helpful to older women.
"It's reassuring, in that older women don't have to be skinny or try to maintain the same weight as when they were young," Rabin said. "It might be healthier to be a little bit heavier, except if the fat is around the waist. "Women whose weight is centered in their waist should try through diet and exercise to lose that weight," Rabin said. Another specialist agreed that fat at the waist is the most dangerous kind. "Central adiposity will increase anyone's risk of death, said Sharon Zarabi, director of the bariatric program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The study findings were published Feb. 23 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2017, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society