Belly fat most harmful to health

Someone with a lot of belly fat has a higher risk of death than those who are obese, a new study suggests.

"We knew from previous research that central obesity is bad, but what is new in this research is that the distribution of the fat is very important even in people with a normal weight," said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, senior author on the study and a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in a statement. "This group has the highest death rate, even higher than those who are considered obese based on BMI. From a public health perspective, this is a significant finding." 

The results of the study were presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference called the ESC Congress 2012.

The researchers looked at almost 13,000 adults from the NHANES study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an on-going national health study. Information on the people's size, weight, circumference and other data were measured against death data. 

They found that those who had normal BMI but a lot of belly fat had the highest risk of death from all causes. The risk of cardiovascular death was 2.75 higher and death from all causes was more than 2 times higher for these people vs those with normal BMI and normal amounts of belly fat.

The doctors said those with normal BMI should have a waist-to-hip measurement to determine if they have too much belly fat. And they should take lifestyle steps to improve their numbers.