First some background: A ton of stuff has been written about the difference between "apples" and "pears", apples being folks who store their fat around the middle and "pears" being those who store it on the hips butt and thighs. Fact is, all fat is not created equal. The fat stored around the butt hips and thighs- also known as subcutaneousfat since it's right below the skin- might drive you crazy and make it hard to put on your jeans, but it's not nearly as dangerous as the other kind. The fat stored around the middle- also called VAT or visceral abdominal fat- is a metabolic nightmare. Stored deep inside the abdominal walls, it is metabolically active fat that directly increases the risk for all sorts of health problems from metabolic syndrome to diabetes.
OK, now on to the study.
Researchers looked at data from almost 360,000 Europeans who had been enrolled in a larger study called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. They followed these folks for ten years, during which 14,723 of the participants died. What they found was that men and women with the largest waists had virtually twice the risk for premature death as those with the smallest ones.
According to Tobias Pischon, MD, MPH, the lead author of the study, the single most important finding in their study was that it the distribution of body fat affected the risk of premature death. Where you store your fat is even more important than what you weigh. And this was true even when weight is normal. "There aren't many simple individual characteristics that can increase a person's risk of premature death to this extent, independent of smoking and drinking" said Pischon.
For years we nutritionists have been using a "low-tech" shorthand for insulin resistance: a 40 inch (or greater) waist for men, a 35 inch (or greater) waist for women. Interestingly, that was exactly the number that correlated with a doubled risk for death when compared with smaller waists (less than 34 inches for men, less than 28 inches for women). Each 2 inch increase in waist circumference added about 17% increased risk for mortality in men and about 13% increased mortality in women.
Earlier this year I reported research showing that these numbers (40 inch waist for men, 35 for women) also indicated an increased risk for stroke.
Bottom line: reduce your belly fat. If you're an apple, chances are you're also insulin resistant, and would benefit from a diet low in carbohydrates. In my opinion, that's the absolute best "nutritional intervention" to reduce the most dangerous kind of fat on the body (as well as the plain old garden variety "unsightly" kind).
Just remember that low-carb doesn't mean unlimited calories. The absolute best way to go is lower calorie combined with controlled carb eating. For a good calorie goal take your target weight and multiply by 10. That's a great starting point.
And remember also that you'll not only be reducing your belly fat- you'll also be reducing the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, some cancers and... oh yes, just plain dying.
Seems to me those are pretty good reasons to start eating differently!