Risk Factors in African American Women

african american bmi riskNumerous studies have demonstrated that being obese is a significant risk to one’s health. Earlier this year, we wrote about a study that linked obesity withearly death in women; now new research has found that obesity and large waist size are particularly harmful to African American women. The study, conducted by researchers at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, found that for African American women, the risk of death increases with higher levels of overweight and obesity.

Comparing body mass index (BMI) and waist size with risk of death over a 13 year period, the researchers looked at 33,916 black women who were non-smokers and did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study. The key findings from this group of women were:

1. For each 5-unit increase in BMI, the risk of death was 18 percent higher
2. Overall, the relationship between body size and risk of death was strongest for deaths from cardiovascular disease.
3. For overweight women (BMI of 25 to 29), the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was two times greater than women with a healthy weight (BMI under 25).
4. For obese women (BMI of 30 or higher), the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was three times greater than women with a healthy weight (BMI under 25).

A particularly interesting finding of the study was related to waist size; a larger waist circumference was linked with a greater risk of death for women who were not considered obese. Specifically, a 55 percent higher risk of death was associated with a waist size over 35 inches. While BMI is indeed a good measure of total body fat, waist size is a good indicator of body fat distribution, and particularly abdominal fat, which has been linked to the development of insulin resistance, as well as other health problems. The findings suggest that for people who are not obese, perhaps waist size is a more accurate indicator of health risks than BMI.

Dr. Robert Snow, expert bariatric surgeon of LoneStar Lap-Bands, spoke with us about the findings. He said: “This is a landmark study on cardiovascular risk prediction by body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference in African American women.  These data show that, similar to prior studies involving white women, increasing BMI and waist circumference are both very significant risk factors for predicting deaths from cardiovascular disease in African American women.” Dr. Snow concluded that the study highlights the importance for all women to maintain a healthy weight and keep extra inches off their waist in order to reduce their risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

This study was published on September 8th in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Excess belly fat is a risk factor for a multitude of diseases. You can learn how to properly measure your waist circumference and more ways to trim your belly fat here.


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