Which is unhealthier and more likely to kill you: having a normal BMI but most of your fat in your middle or being obese evenly all over?
The comparison of normal weight but carrying most of one’s fat in their stomach was made to those who are fat all throughout their body.
Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences conducted a study of 42,702 participants encompassing 10 different years.
Professors David Stensel and Mark Hamer led the way.
Past studies showed that people who had a medically acceptable body weight but carried a disproportionate amount of fat in their belly (central obesity) had the highest death risk – meaning, most likely to die prematurely.
This finding has been compared to other people also with central obesity, BUT who were overweight or obese all over as well.
In other words, think of a man or woman with non-chubby arms and normal-size legs but a big blubber gut, being compared to a second person with a gut just as big or even bigger – but also plump chubby arms and overweight legs.
The Loughborough University study showed this once again, and the study was much larger scale.
The study results create the illusion that being overweight all over is healthier than being lean all over. However, it’s not that absolute! Keep reading…
The new study had the following classifications for participants:
• Normal weight
• Normal weight with central obesity
• Overweight with central obesity
• Obese with central obesity
These classifications were based on BMI (body mass index) and waist-hip ratio.
The reference point were people with normal body weight who had NO central obesity.
Participants with normal body weight WITH central obesity, and those who were overall obese but also WITH central obesity (that last category) had the highest risk for all-cause death.
However, every subject who had excess belly fat, regardless of overall body weight or BMI, had a heightened risk for cardiovascular mortality.
“Our research does back up the findings of previous smaller scale studies,” says Professor Hamer in the report, “which show normal weight people with central obesity are at increased risk for all-cause mortality.”
Many overweight people have used these findings to reassure themselves that being “thin” can be unhealthy, and/or that you can be overweight but still healthy.
Yes, thin-all-over people can have heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, but don’t you think they’d be in even worse shape if they were overweight all over?
Notice that there is no category called “central thinness but limb obesity.”
Do not let the findings confuse you. ANY obesity or excess fat in the stomach is a risk factor for cardiovascular death or premature mortality.
However, the GREATEST risk is in people who have central obesity but medium size limbs … as in the image below:
However, I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around the idea that the woman above is in more danger than someone who weighs 300 proportionate pounds.
Nevertheless, do not take these findings to mean that you’re in the safe zone if you look like the woman below:
According to the study, the woman in red is healthier than the woman in blue.
But if the woman in red lost 20 pounds of fat via healthful methods, she’d be healthier and fitter, don’t you think?
So if you’re proportionately obese or moderately overweight, you should still take measures to get rid of the excess weight, even though you’re not AS BAD OFF as the person with the big stomach but “normal” legs and arms.
Remember, it’s a relativity issue. Proportionately overweight people are not off the hook from the fact that excess overall body weight is a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic back pain and osteoarthritis in the knees.
That being said, excess abdominal fat is a grim reaper regardless of body weight or how thin your legs and arms are.
Professor Hamer’s report, which is in the April 2017 Annals of Internal Medicine, says that “you should take steps to reduce this fat.”
So How Do You Lose Excess Belly Fat when the Rest of You Is Thin or Normal?
I’m a former certified personal trainer, and I’ll first tell you how you CAN’T lose it: sit-ups and crunches.
Another fruitless approach is to starve yourself.
Instead, the best approaches are high intensity interval training and intense strength training.
I’d like to see a study comparing 400 pound people with evenly distributed obesity to 1) 200 pound people with disproportionate fat in their bellies and 2) 170 pound people with lean arms and legs but big fatty bellies.
Until then, one fact is certain: excess fat in the stomach is bad, regardless of anything else, and your reference point should be YOU YOURSELF WITHOUT the excess tummy fat — you and only you.
Targeted abdominal training will NOT reduce belly fat, no matter what your BMI or overall body weight is or how “average” size your arms and legs are.