You might think a little weight around your midsection is harmless, but authors of a new paper caution having pudge in the area could signal a serious condition that may cut years off your life.
In their commentary, published this week in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) wrote that having love handles could be a sign of metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of three or more factors: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, abnormal lipids and insulin resistance.
"The major factor accelerating the pathway to metabolic syndrome is overweight and obesity," senior author Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, a medicine professor at FAU, said in a news release.
According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of metabolic syndrome among American adults rose by more than 35 percent in 1988 – 1994 to 2007 – 2012, increasing from 25.3 percent to 34.2 percent.
People with metabolic syndrome don’t always present symptoms but have a 16 – 18 percent 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event, which is about as high as a patient who has had such an event before, the FAU researchers wrote in their paper.
Visceral fat, or fat in the midsection, can be easily measured by waist circumference. This measurement is increasingly being used as a marker for metabolic syndrome risk — even when excluding a person’s body mass index (BMI), a standard measure for body fat, Dr. Dawn H. Sherling, first author and an assistant professor of integrated medical science, said in the release.
"There are patients who have a normal body mass index yet are at high risk,” Sherling said. “These patients represent an important population for clinicians to screen for metabolic syndrome."
To reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, the researchers advised aiming for a waistline of less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.
According to the CDC, about two-thirds of American adults are overweight and more than one-third are obese. Research suggests being overweight or obese can increase your risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and heart disease.
About 610,000 people die of heart disease each year in the U.S., according to the CDC. That’s the equivalent of one in four U.S. deaths.
Yet, Hennekens pointed out, research suggests even moderate weight loss can offer health benefits.
Losing 5 percent or more of body weight with a brisk 20-minute walk daily can dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and deaths, Hennekens said in the release.