‘Beer Belly’ Increases Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death

Carrying excess weight around the midsection often referred to as a “beer belly”, “pot belly” or “apple-shape”, increases an obese person’s risk of suffering a sudden cardiac death, according to the findings of a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society. Sudden cardiac death, defined as death that occurs within an hour of initial symptoms, is responsible for more than 250,000 deaths in the United States each year.  In addition to obesity, risk factors include coronary artery disease and heart rhythm problems.

The new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, examined the medical records of more than 15,000 people who were enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. In the 13 years of the study, more than 300 of the participants experienced sudden cardiac death. The researchers found that body-mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio all were linked with sudden cardiac death. However, after they factored in co-occurring conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol, only the elevated waist-to-hip ratio still was linked with sudden cardiac death. For women, a waist-to-hip circumference of 0.8 or more is considered unhealthy, while 0.95 or higher is unhealthy in men. For instance, a person with 36-inch hips and a 36-inch waist would have a ratio of 1, and would be at an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.  The study author concluded that “abdominal obesity, as seen in an apple shape, is an independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death, even after accounting for factors such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and hypertension.”

Dr. Michael Thomas, expert weight loss surgeon in Louisiana, commented on the study. He explained that “apple-shape”, beer belly or pot belly all refer to central obesity. “Central obesity has stronger correlation to obesity-related diseases than having “pear-shape”.  Adding sudden cardiac death to the list only strengthens this concept. Stressing this idea to “apple-shape” patients may encourage them to be more aggressive in their treatment–behavioral, medical or surgical,” Dr. Thomas concluded.

While the findings of this study are preliminary, the risks of apple-shape obesity have been demonstrated in other research. Although where we store fat is not primarily under our control, research has shown that there are ways to decrease abdominal fat. Additionally, last year a study determined that a protein plays a key part in whether the body stores fat in an apple-shape pattern versus a pear-shape. You can read about the study here.

Comments are closed.