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Obesity, bigger waist may mean higher death risk for black women

September 07, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Obesity and having a larger waist may be linked with a higher death risk for African American women.
Obesity and having a larger waist may be linked with a higher death risk for… (Chris Jackson / Getty Images )

Being obese and having a larger waist may be linked with a higher risk of dying for African American women, a study finds.

Body mass index and waist circumference were examined in 33,916 women who were part of the ongoing Black Women's Health Study and had never smoked and didn't have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the beginning of the study.

In 13 years of follow-up, researchers found that for women who had a BMI of 20 or higher, every five-unit rise in BMI was linked with an 18% increase in the risk of death during the study period. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 and above is considered obese. For overweight women the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was two times higher, and for obese women it was three times higher compared with normal-weight women.

Having a higher BMI was associated with a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, but not from cancer--having a BMI of 35 or higher was connected with a higher risk of death from other causes. Excluding women who had a waist size of less than 26 inches, every five-unit gain in waist circumference was associated with a 12% increase in the risk of death during the study period. For women who were not obese, having a larger waist was still linked with a higher risk of dying.

While BMI is generally used by health professionals to chart weight, waist circumference is another tool often employed to determine if someone is overweight or obese. Visceral or abdominal fat is thought to carry more health hazards, since in some studies it has been linked to a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"The present findings indicate that the risk of death in black women increases with increasing BMI of 25 or higher, similar to the pattern in white populations," said lead author Deborah Boggs in a news release. "Our findings highlight the importance for women to maintain a healthy weight and keep extra inches off the waist in order to decrease their risk of death."

The study was released Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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