Could shape actually outperform size as an indicator of heart health? A new study, for instance, argues that a pear-shaped body – which carries weight around the hips – may be better than an apple-shaped body, which has more weight around one’s belly area.

Researchers from Salt Lake City’s Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore deemed the latter a strong predictor of heart illness in type 1 or type 2 diabetes patients, including those who haven’t shown heart disease symptoms at all.

The link between belly fat and left ventricular dysfunction – a common culprit behind congestive heart failure and other heart diseases – was even found independent of body mass index (BMI) and total body weight.

"This study confirms that having an apple-shaped body - or a high waist circumference - can lead to heart disease, and that reducing your waist size can reduce your risks," reports Dr. Brent Muhlestein, research co-director at the heart institute.

The study analyzed 200 diabetic males and females without any heart symptoms. It expands on a previous study called faCTor-64, which showed that a higher BMI led to a greater heart disease risk.

Using echocardiography, the researchers studied the subjects’ heart function and discovered that the function of their left ventricle became progressively worse as their waist sizes expanded, with cardiovascular decline leveling off at a waistline of 45 inches.

The left ventricle of the heart is the chamber pumping oxygen-filled blood to the brain and body, and any dysfunction there leads blood to back up into the lungs and lower body parts, resulting in heart failure.

Heart disease is a global scourge, with one in three individuals suffering from it in their lifetime. About one-third will die from a heart attack or related malfunction before a diagnosis is made.

The study highlighted how waistline more strongly predicts one’s left ventricular dysfunction risk than BMI, and experts echoed how abdominal fat is much more dangerous than fat anywhere else.

“Abdominal fat produces a wide range of inflammatory substances, and is more highly correlated with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes than other types of fat," says cardiologist Dr. Sarah Samaan, who was not involved in the research.

The risk could be more pronounced in men, Muhlestein warns, advising men to keep their waistline at less than 40 inches and women at less than 34 inches.

The study findings were reported April 2 at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session held in Chicago this year.

Photo: Jonathan Rolande | Flickr

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