Previous research has shown that obesity increases the risk of heart disease. However, these studies have mainly been done in populations of European and North American origin. The evidence for other populations is therefore sparse. In the latest study, Salim Yusuf (McMaster University, Ontario, Canada) and colleagues aimed to assess whether other markers for obesity, especially waist-to-hip ratio, would be a stronger predictor of heart attack than the conventional measure of BMI in different ethnic populations.
The investigators looked at BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, waist measure, and hip measure in over 27,000 people from 52 countries. Half the participants had previously had a heart attack and half were age and sex-matched controls (individuals who had not had a heart attack and were the same age and sex as cases). The team found that BMI was only slightly higher in heart attack patients than in controls, with no difference in the middle east and South Asia. By contrast, heart attack patients had a strikingly higher waist-to-hip ratio than controls, irrespective of other cardiovascular risk factors. The researchers found that this observation was consistent in men and women, across all ages, and in all regions of the world. The authors' state that compared with BMI, waist-to-hip ratio is three times stronger than BMI in predicting the risk of heart attack. Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) was harmful, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) was protective.