According to a new study published last month in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, carrying excess belly fat can be harmful to your health—even for people considered “normal weight” based on their BMI.
The study, led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, looked at the health data for more than 15,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 90. After an average follow-up period of 14 years, researchers determined that normal weight men and women with extra belly fat have a higher risk of early death than overweight or obese people.
Dr. Lopez-Jimenez and his team point out that belly fat is particularly dangerous because it is often deposited in the liver, where it can trigger inflammation linked to heart disease and diabetes. Belly fat has also been linked to higher estrogen levels in women, which may increase the risk of some types of cancer.
The takeaway, according to researchers, is that people need to be aware of their waistlines as well as their weight. Instead of just focusing on getting rid of extra pounds, it is important to build muscle mass through exercise and a healthy diet. That way, belly fat is often the first to go.