New research indicates that body shape could be a more significant marker of health than weight or BMI. Here’s why belly fat gets a particularly bad rap, even if you’re not overweight

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It’s not the first time we’ve been told of the positive health implications of quite literally watching your waistline- experts have previously suggested that a waist circumference test to measure abdominal obesity is a more accurate predictor of heart disease and diabetes than BMI . Now the importance of maintaining a healthy hip to waist ratio is being emphasised on account of a new study, with doctors urging patients to “see your doctor if your waist is bigger than your hips”.

A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology on Friday by doctors from the Mayo Clinic of Minnesota showed that, of 1692 participants aged 45 or over, those with a normal BMI but large waist had double the risk of encountering serious cardiovascular problems than either participants of a healthy weight with little belly fat, or participants considered overweight or obese without a large waist measurement. Despite what BMI tests or the scales may say, the size of your belly could be more telling of your overall wellbeing and risk of future health problems than any other indicator, as the Mayo Clinic’s Jose Medina-Inojosa told The Times:

“People with a normal weight but fat belly have a body shape that indicates a sedentary lifestyle, low muscle mass and eating too many refined carbohydrates

“The belly is usually the first place we deposit fat, so people classified as overweight by BMI, but without a fat belly, probably have more muscle, which is good for health. Muscle is like a metabolic storehouse.”

This isn’t the first time that experts have picked holes in the BMI method as a determiner of good health, seeing as many elite athletes would be deemed obese according to their BMI calculation , and it seems that simply relying on weighing yourself isn’t necessarily the most enlightening barometer of wellbeing either (shirkers of the “sad step” such as  Joe Wicks  will appreciate this news).

Medical experts are increasingly focusing on “central obesity” and areas of fat distribution as more accurate markers of health, with a recent study published by the George Institute for Global Health  demonstrating that the waist-to-hip ratio as a means of health assessment is 18 per cent stronger than BMI when it comes to predicting future heart attack risk in women in particular (it’s just 6 per cent more effective for men). As such, Medina-Inojosa advocates prioritising ‘waist loss’ rather than necessarily overall weight loss. The best step is to probably get moving full stop and stick to a well balanced diet, but as we all know, that’s sometimes easier said than done. If you’re putting the work in but still holding onto visceral fat, everything from stress levels to sleep deprivation could be playing a part- see our guide to combating belly fat  and consider weight training  if you haven’t already to boost your muscle mass and metabolism. If you needed another incentive, Sheila Hancock took up weightlifting in her 80s to improve her overall strength and reduce muscle wastage, and she can now lift on a par with the men at her gym. You’ve got this.