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Belly fat more dangerous in older women than being overweight

Staff Writer |
In older women, it's not excess weight that's deadly, but where those extra pounds collect that can shorten life, a new study reports.

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Among women 70 to 79, being overweight or obese didn't appear to cut years off life - unless the weight was centered around the waist. But being underweight also appeared to shorten life span, researchers found.

"Abdominal fat is more deadly than carrying excess weight," said lead researcher Zhao Chen. She's chair of the University of Arizona's department of epidemiology and biostatistics in the College of Public Health.

While the study found that a large waist circumference is detrimental, Hispanic women were somewhat protected -- they had lower mortality rates at any waist measurement or BMI level than white or black women.

Chen added, "An older woman should be concerned when her body weight is below normal for her height, and less concerned when she is slightly heavier than normal."

The researchers found that the risk of mortality increased when waist circumference measured more than 31.5 inches (80 centimeters), and they classified anything above nearly 35 inches (88 centimeters) as an "extreme risk."

The study looked at weight by using body mass index (BMI) measurements. BMI is a rough estimate of a person's body fat based on height and weight measurements. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight. Below 18.5 is underweight, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

Obesity is a BMI of 30 or more. But obesity can also be broken into three classes, as was done in this study. Class I or "slight" obesity is a BMI of 30 to 34.9. Class II is 35 to 39.9, and class III is a BMI of 40 or above.

Although being overweight is often considered generally bad for your health, how bad may depend on your age, race and ethnic background, Chen said.


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