Special Report

Why You Should Worry About Your Waist More Than Your Weight

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We keep hearing about the food that goes to waste, but what the food that goes to our waists? Neither is a good thing. And just as food waste has been increasing for decades, so has our waist circumference. And a big belly is no small matter — that spare tire adds to a person’s risk of several serious diseases and conditions, even premature death.

During this century, the average waist circumference for men in this country has crept up by more than an inch, from 39 to 40.2 inches, according to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase for women has been even greater, with the average waistline circumference jumping from 36.3 to 38.6 inches since the last survey, in 1999-2000.

Now more people than ever have the classic apple-shaped body — the result of having a waist bigger than the hips. A larger waistline can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Already almost 7.0% of the adults in this country have some form of cardiovascular disease — and these are the states with the most heart disease.

Belly fat is different from the fat that accumulates around the hips and thighs in people with the so-called “pear shape” build — the breakdown processes is somewhat different. The abdominal fat breakdown and the way the body responds to the process can lead to atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the arteries, and type 2 diabetes.

Some simple calculations can alert you to whether you’re edging into apple territory. First, measure your hips around the widest part of your buttocks. Next, measure your waist just above the top of your hip bones. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. Women with a waist measurement of 35 inches or more and a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.9 or more land in the at-risk category. For men, a 40-inch waist or more, and a waist-to-hip ratio of 1.0 indicates risk.

You might never have washboard abs, but you don’t have to stay an apple forever. As with many weight and health-related issues, mindfulness in diet and exercise can help reduce the risk. Cutting back on sugar and starches like refined carbohydrates could be the first step to losing that spare.

Practicing time-restricted eating three days a week may also help improve your body’s insulin response and reduce abdominal fat, according to Harvard Medical School. The goal is to stop eating earlier in the day and abstain from food for 14 hours between the last meal of the day and the first meal the following day.

Stepping up your exercise regimen can burn extra calories and protect muscle mass. Lack of exercise is a risk factor — and so are 27 other dangerous things that experts have linked to heart disease.  

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