Having a big belly is even more closely correlated with health problems than obesity in general.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School reported that in a study of 44,636 women, those with waists larger than 35 inches were 79% more likely to die prematurely than those with waists less than 27 inches, even if their weight was normal.
For men, the danger point seems to be 40 inches or more. "These guys with small behinds but big 'beer guts' are at greater risk for health problems than men with higher Body Mass Index, but relatively less fat in the abdominal region," says Rudolph I. Leibel, co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
The recent report that having a pot belly in your 40s roughly triples your risk of dementia in later life is just the tip of an ominous iceberg. The connection with dementia is not well-understood; it could be that belly fat is linked to high blood pressure and poor vascular function, which then leads to Alzheimer's disease; or it could be a more random association, like gray hair going hand in hand with heart disease.
Belly fat--the visceral kind that accumulates around internal organs--has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, stoke, heart disease, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and numerous cancers.
Gut Check: The good news for both sexes is that visceral fat is often the first to go when someone loses weight in general.
Source: Health Journal, The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2008