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Larger Waist Size Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Failure, Study Finds

BOSTON -- People carrying a “spare tire” around their midsections could be at greater risk for heart failure, a study by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) finds.

Researchers examined two Swedish studies and found that a larger waist circumference was associated with an increased risk of heart failure among men and women who were middle-aged and older.

Among women with a BMI of 25, a 10-centimeter (4-inch) higher waist measurement was associated with a 15 percent higher heart failure rate. For women with a BMI of 30, they discovered an 18 percent increase in heart failure rates.

In men with a BMI of 25, a 10-centimeter higher waist circumference was associated with a 16 percent higher heart failure rate, while the rate increased to 18 percent when the men’s BMI increased to 30.

“By any measure – BMI, waist circumference, waist to hip ratio or waist to height ratio – our findings showed that excess body weight was associated with higher rates of heart failure,” wrote Emily Levitan, ScD, the study’s first author and a research fellow in the cardiovascular epidemiology research unit at BIDMC.

The study found that 34 percent of the women surveyed were overweight and 11 percent were considered obese, while 46 percent of the men were overweight and 10 percent of them were obese.

BIDMC researchers looked at two Swedish population-based studies, the Swedish Mammography Cohort (made up of 36,873 women ages 48 to 83) and the Cohort of Swedish Men (43,487 men ages 45 to 79) who responded to questionnaires asking for information about their height, weight and waist circumference.

Between January 1998 and December 2004, 382 of the women experienced first-time heart-failure events (including 357 hospital admissions and 25 deaths), and 718 first-time heart-failure events occurred among men (accounting for 679 hospital admissions and 39 deaths).

They also found that among the men, each one-unit increase in BMI was associated with a 4 percent higher heart failure rate, no matter the man’s waist size. But among women, BMI was only associated with increased heart failure rates among subjects with the largest waists.

Findings also suggested that the younger the person, the greater the impact of weight to heart health. Researchers found that the association between BMI and heart-failure events actually declined with age.

The study was published in the April 7 Rapid Access Report of the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

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