September 19, 2005

Patients Unaware of Waist Size Heart Disease Risk

LONDON -- Patients, and even some doctors, are unaware that abdominal fat and waist circumference are important risk factors for heart disease which kills 17 million people worldwide each year.

An international survey released on Monday showed that only a minority of patients and about 60 percent of doctors know that a bigger waist size raises their odds of having a heart attack.

"Waist circumference is a very important measure for cardiovascular risk," said Professor Sidney Smith, of the Geneva-based World Heart Federation (WHF).

"Measuring waist circumference is an easy, low cost indicator that should be added to measurements of other cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, lipid levels and blood glucose," he added in a statement.

A waist size of 88 centimetres (35 inches) for women and 102 centimetres (40 inches) for men in North America puts them in the high risk category for heart disease.

The figures are slightly lower for people living in Central and Latin America, the Middle East, India and Asia at 80 cm for women and 90 for men. In Japan the high risk category is 90 cm for men and 85 for men and 80 cm for women and 94 for men in the rest of the world.

Waist measures differ to take into account physique and lifestyle differences around the world.

About 11,077 people in 27 countries were questioned in the poll to assess their knowledge about cardiovascular disease, one of the biggest killers in the industrialized world.

Smith said the findings show the need for more education to increase awareness. People know that being overweight or obese increase the odds of heart disease and stroke but where the fat is deposited is important.

Being overweight or obese is calculated by using body mass index (BMI) -- dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. A BMI of more than 25 is overweight. Above 30 is considered obese.

But weight around the middle, or abdominal obesity, has been shown to be a more accurate indicator because it is also linked to other risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and raised blood pressure.

More than half of the patients at risk of heart disease said they have never been informed by their doctors about the link between abdominal fat and raised heart disease risk.

About one in eight men and one in 17 women will die from cardiovascular disease before the age of 65, according to European cardiovascular disease statistics.