People who fall within a normal weight range but who carry excess belly fat -- also known as a ‘muffin top' -- are at a higher risk of developing heart disease than people who are obese, says a new study.
The results are surprising and debunk the conventional notion that cardiovascular disease targets mostly those who are overweight and obese.
For their study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota examined the body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio of 12,785 subjects 18 years and older from a representative sample of the US population.
The mean age of the subjects was 44 years. In a 14-year follow-up, there were 2,562 deaths, of which 1,138 were cardiovascular-related.
After analyzing the subjects' BMI and waist-to-hip ratio, researchers found that the risk of cardiovascular disease was 2.75 times higher and the risk of death about 2 times higher in people of normal weight with high waist-to-hip ratios, compared to those with a normal BMI and normal waist-to-hip ratio.
"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, lead researcher and cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"....Our research shows that if a person has a normal BMI, this by itself should not reassure them that their risk for heart disease is low. Where their fat is distributed on their body can mean a lot, and that can be determined easily by getting a waist-to-hip measurement, even if their body weight is within normal limits."
The findings were presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Munich this week.
Meanwhile, a US study published last year found that the best bet for trimming belly fat is vigorous aerobic activity like jogging and brisk walking rather than weight training.