Deaths among the participants were tracked up until the end of 2006. By that point, about 9,300 men and 5,300 women had passed away.
Irrespective of BMI, the researchers found that having a large waist did indeed appear to be associated with having a higher risk for death.
Men who had a waist size of 47 inches or more bore about a twofold higher risk for death compared to men with the lowest waist size, they noted. The same increased risk was observed among women with a waist size of 42 inches or more.
The higher risk linked to greater waist size held whether or not men and women were of normal overall weight, overweight or obese, Jacobs and his associates noted. However, women of normal weight who nonetheless carried excess weight in their waist area appeared to be most vulnerable to the large waist-death risk association.
On this later point, the authors said they were not yet able to explain the underlying cause for the higher risk such women seem to face. They nevertheless suggested that the findings could lead to a shift in national guidelines for all men and women with respect to cautionary recommendations that currently highlight health risks linked with being overweight or obese overall, rather than risks specifically linked to abdominal obesity.
"Even if your weight is considered normal for your height, keeping your waist size is important for your health," Jacobs said. "So if you notice your waist size increasing over time, it's time to start eating better and exercising more."
With respect to women, Connie Diekman, director of nutrition for Washington University in St. Louis, took a shot at pinpointing a potential contributing factor.
"It's not totally a surprise, because menopausal women tend to store body fat in the abdominal area," she noted. "Because without the estrogen, our curves shift. So, this study really shows what we've long seen with women's increas
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