29 October 2004 Body Shape Predicts Heart Attack Risk
For elderly women, the location of body fat is more important than total fat amount in predicting future heart attacks, according to research just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. "In the over-70 age group, overall obesity did not predict heart attack risk," said lead researcher Barbara J. Nicklas. "It didn't matter how much fat the older woman had - what mattered was where that fat was stored." The researchers, from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, found that intra-abdominal fat, or fat stored in and around the internal organs, is most predictive of heart attack risk.
"People with higher levels of intra-abdominal fat tend to be apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped" Nicklas said. "As we age, fat gets stored in the abdomen more than anywhere else, which isn't good because it's now associated with heart attacks. The best way to lose that fat is to lose overall body fat through exercise and diet." The research revealed that intra-abdominal fat was a risk factor even if women did not have any other risk factors for heart disease. "Women who had a heart attack during the course of the study had approximately 27 percent more intra-abdominal fat at the start of the study," said Nicklas.
"This risk factor was independent of total amount of body fat, diabetes, blood pressure and blood lipid levels."
Knowing more about intra-abdominal fat as a risk factor for heart disease could lead to early screening, said Nicklas. Waist size is one easy way to screen but, according to the study results, may not be the most accurate. "There are clinically defined cut-points for waist size - 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men - that suggest a person is at higher risk for heart disease," Nicklas said. "However, in this study, waist size was not an accurate predictor of heart attack."