THURSDAY, March 10 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that contradicts earlier research, an international study suggests that being obese boosts the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke regardless of where the excess fat is stored in the body.
That challenges the widely adopted notion that not all obesity is alike, with so-called apple-shaped people, who carry fat mainly in their midsections, facing a bigger risk for heart problems than those whose excess fat is carried on the hips or elsewhere.
Not so, say the researchers behind the new study. When it comes to obesity and heart disease, no excess fat is good fat, regardless of where it ends up, their analysis has found.
"Society has accepted the idea that if you carry more weight around the middle, your risk of heart disease is higher," said Dr. Emanuele Di Angelantonio, the study's co-author and a lecturer in medical screening at the University of Cambridge in England. "But actually this study shows that it doesn't matter where your fat is located. If you're overweight you're at risk, full stop."
Complicating matters, however, is the study's additional finding that the standard diagnostic measurements of fat -- such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio -- are not the most reliable tools for assessing heart disease risk.
Better indicators, it says, are blood cholesterol measurements and blood pressure readings.
"While excess fat level does remain a very important risk factor, for [doctors] who really want to predict cardiovascular risk in patients, it is enough to look at cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and smoking background, regardless of the patient's obesity status," Di Angelantonio said.
The study's findings, developed by a global team of 200 scientists from 17 countries and based at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, are reported online March 1
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