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Mar 19, 2012

HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES

Women's Shapes Linked to Heart Disease

By William J. Cromie
Gazette Staff

Middle-aged and older women with a waist measurement of 30 inches or more have at least twice the risk of heart disease than slimmer females. If waist size goes to 38 inches, the risk triples compared to a waistline of 28 inches or less. But whether overweight or not, too much fat around the waist is a danger signal.

"Women who are apple-shaped, that is, with a high waist-to-hip ratio, are at increased risk for coronary heart disease compared to pear-shaped women, who have low waist-to-hip ratios," according to Kathryn Rexrode of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

In 1986 Rexrode and her colleagues sent questionnaires that asked about waist and hip measurements to 44,702 nurses aged 40 to 65. They followed these women for eight years, during which 251 suffered heart attacks and 69 died of heart disease. Analysis of the information led to the conclusion that females with a ratio of 0.88 or higher are more than three times as likely to have heart disease than women with a ratio of 0.72 or less.

The ratio is determined by dividing waistline circumference by hip circumference. Women at lowest risk, those with a ratio of 0.72 or less, have waistlines 72 percent less than their hip circumference. Those at greatest risk have waists 88 percent or more of their hip measurement. A woman with a ratio of 0.72 and a waistline of 28 inches would have 39-inch hips (divide waist size by the ratio). One with a 30-inch waist and a 0.88 ratio would have 34-inch hips.

An earlier Harvard study of men 40 years and older concluded that those with a ratio of 0.98 or higher (shaped more like a potato) increased their risk of heart disease to about 40 percent. That compares with a risk of more than 300 percent for women with a ratio of 0.88 and higher.

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