Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Belly fat may contribute more to developing heart disease than overall body fat, new research shows.
More than 47 percent of women older than 55 with a high body mass index had coronary heart disease, according to a study published Monday in Menopause. Perhaps even more important, 55 percent of those with coronary heart disease had high belly fat. Central obesity is defined as a waist circumference of more than 33 inches.
That's important since menopause shifts the body weight distribution to the abdomen in older women, suggesting more women could be at risk for the condition than already know.
"The findings of this study are consistent with what we know about the detrimental effects of central obesity," Stephanie Faubion, medical director at The North American Menopause Society, who was not involved in the study, said in a press release. "Not all fat is the same, and central obesity is particularly dangerous because it is associated with risk for heart disease, the number one killer of women."
Health experts have always pointed to obesity as a risk factor for coronary artery disease. It's been linked to insulin resistance, hypertension and diabetes, which all contribute to a variety of heart ailments.
The study included close to 700 Korean women age 55 and older who underwent angioplasty to treat coronary artery disease. All the women had a BMI over 55 pounds. In all, only 41 percent of women who developed coronary artery disease didn't have belly fat.
These findings hold especially dire consequences for post-menopausal women, who lose the heart-protective effects of estrogen as they age.
Another study has shown belly fat in post-menopausal women can even elevate death risk.
"Identifying women with excess abdominal fat, even with a normal BMI, is important so that lifestyle interventions can be implemented," Faubion said.