For many people, middle-aged spread is as much a part of getting older as laughter lines, receding hairlines and worsening hangovers. But research suggests that even the smallest of pot bellies may be a serious health risk.

After examining more than 2,700 men and women with an average age of 45, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found that those with even a little fat around their waists were significantly more vulnerable to heart disease, even if their overall weight was normal, according to a report in the London Times.

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Their findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), may come as a shock to many who would not consider themselves fat. But they reinforce a growing belief among medical experts that waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a more accurate measure of healthy shape than the widely used body mass index (BMI).

BMI, which is calculated using a weight and height calculation, gives an overall indication of heaviness compared. But according to BMI measurements, many ship-shape U.S. football stars would be classified as overweight, and increasing numbers of experts are now questioning BMI’s usefulness.

The new study by James de Lemos and his team adds credibility to the theory that WHR is a more accurate means of measuring heart-disease risk because it identifies potentially dangerous “central obesity” even in those who are not overweight.