A large population-based study from the Epidemiology Research Program at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, led by Eric Jacobs, found that the risk of death each year increased with waist size— the bigger the gut, the greater the risk. Researchers also found that an increase in waist size during a 10-year period increased the risk of death by at least 25 percent. This study was unique because it examined more than 100,000 people and found that belly size was dangerous even in people with low body fat levels.
Low body mass index (BMI is a measure of the proportion of weight to height) is widely used as a simple measure of body composition. Most health experts classify a BMI of less than 18.5 as underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 as ideal weight; 25.0 to 29.9 as overweight, and 30 or more as obese. The study found that greater waist circumference increased the death risk from all causes in all BMI groups. People with a large gut but normal BMI had the greatest risk of premature death. (Archives Internal Medicine, 170: 1293-1301)