Can Love Handles Kill?

September 10, 2012

Can Love Handles Kill? 

 Reference: European Heart Journal 

 A wee bit of belly fat around your belt?  Your buckle angle to the ground no longer vertical?  Hmmmm.  This could be the strongest clue you have to early mortality.  Dr. Lopez-Jimenez from the Mayo Clinic and eight other physicians have abstracted data from a major CDC study looking at the problem of central belly fat.  

They followed 12,785 Americans for 14 years of whom 2,562 died in that period.  What they were focusing on was the waist to hip ratio.  How much fat do you have in the middle? Are your pear-shaped, with leg and hip fat, or apple-shaped with belly fat?   It’s easy to calculate those ratios.  (Do it here)  Men should have a ratio that is less that .90 and women should be less than .85.  Simple, isn’t it? Their findings are very sobering!  

They split the groups up into normal, overweight and obese, and then high and low waist to hip ratio.   That makes for six groups because in each group, there are some who put their weight around their bellies more than around their hips.  For those of us who thought being obese was dangerous, this is particularly disturbing.   Their findings show that the HIGHEST mortality and risk of premature death goes to those with normal BMI but high waist to hip ratio.  Let me reiterate that.   

For those who think they are normal because their BMI is normal (Normal body mass index) this is very disturbing.  Having so-called “normal weight” but a bit of fat around the middle is very dangerous.  If you look at the graph carefully, the premature mortality rate just edges out those who are obese and have some extra weight around the middle. Just when you thought you were safe by losing weight, we come up with research that shows you are still at risk if you have weight around the middle.  Love handles! What’s the problem?   

The authors conjecture a bit but the underlying problem is probably the nature of belly fat.  It’s not, emphasize NOT, just calorie storage.  It’s metabolically very active tissue.  Under a microscope, belly fat is chock full of inflammatory white cells putting out all sorts of inflammatory hormones.  Those inflammatory hormones set off chemical reactions all over the place.  The risk of early death was 210% higher for those with a high Waist to Hip Ratio and a normal BMI compared to those in the same weight class, but with a normal WR ratio.  210%!  That’s huge.  

Dr. Lopez Jimenez says the extra risk of love handles is about the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. How do you get rid of weight around the middle?  You have to have muscle mass to take it up.  There are many of us who have normal BMI but really are obese because we have lost so much muscle.  The only way to measure that is with a DEXA scanner or an InBody machine (gets within 1% of the DEXA with no radiation). 

 WWW.  What will work for me?  If you have someone you love in your life and you give them a hug and they have love handles, go for a walk first.  The hiking club leaves at 6 pm tonight for a 5 mile walk.  I’ll be there.   You could join us.  Guests are always welcomed.   Just make sure you get there 10 minutes early. 

 Written by John E Whitcomb, MD   Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic 17585 W North Ave, Suite 160,  Brookfield, WI 53045  262-784-5300 Archives at