Study: Waist-to-Hip Ratio Better Risk of Heart Attack Predictor Than BMI

Research from the George Institute for Global Health, conducted by Sanne A. E. Peters, Sophie H. Bots, Mark Woodward says that women with larger waists in relation to the size of their hips (“apple shape”) are at a higher risk of having a heart attack than men of a similar shape.

The Survey

500,000 adult participants aged 40 – 69 were interviewed.  A high BMI (Body Mass Index) was linked to heart disease in both men and women.  This is according to the study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The report found that general obesity was not as good at predicting heart attacks when compared with measuring waist-to-hip ratio.  In fact waist-to-hip ratios were a 18% stronger predictor of heart attacks than BMI in women and 6% in men.

Dr Sanne A. E. Peters (lead author), said “Our findings support the notion that having proportionally more fat around the abdomen (a characteristic of the apple shape) appears to be more hazardous than more visceral fat, which is generally stored around the hips (the pear shape).”

She continued “looking at how fat tissue is distributed in the body – especially in women – can give us more insight into the risk of heart attack than measures of general obesity”.


Peters added “Understanding the role sex differences in body fat distribution play in future health problems could lead to sex-specific public health interventions that could address the global obesity epidemic more effectively.”

The Research stated that “Body composition and fat distribution differ markedly between women and men, with a predominance of fat mass and subcutaneous fat in women and of lean mass and visceral fat in men.”

It highlighted the strengths and possible weaknesses of the report that need to be considered when interpreting the results.  “Our study has several strengths, including the prospective design, large sample size, and direct measurement of general and central adiposity on all participants.  However, the UK Biobank is a largely white population, and further analyses are needed to determine the generalisability to other populations.”

What is a Heart Attack?

According to the British Heart Foundation a heart attack is when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply and, if left untreated, will begin to die because it’s not getting enough oxygen. If you are having a heart attack you will be conscious.

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of your heart muscle. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease.

Symptoms of Heart Attack


Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest.
  • pain in other parts of the body. It can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and abdomen.
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
  • sweating.
  • shortness of breath.
  • feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting).
  • an overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack).
  • coughing or wheezing.

Although the chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion. In some cases, there may not be any chest pain at all, especially in women, the elderly and people with diabetes.

It’s the overall pattern of symptoms that helps to determine whether you are having a heart attack.

Keep your Heart Healthy


There are many factors relating to your lifestyle that can contribute to keeping your heart healthy some of them include:

  • Having a healthy diet – ditching foods that are high in sugar, saturated and trans fat and opting for healthier foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and protein.
  • Get active – being more mobile and moving around more can help reduce your risk of heart disease. It also has the added benefit helping to regulate your weight which can lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Weight Management – It’s no shock to hear that keeping your weight down helps to keep your heart healthy.  A healthy weight keeps your cholesterol levels and blood pressure in check.
  • Stop smoking – the shocking statistic is that smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked.
  • Stress – this is only a factor depending on the coping mechanisms used to deal with it.  For example if when stressed you turn to food or alcohol this can have a negative effect on the health of your heart.


If you suspect the symptoms of a heart attack, dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Don’t worry if you have doubts. Paramedics would rather be called out to find an honest mistake has been made than be too late to save a person’s life.


Sources:  Journal of the American Heart Association , British Heart Foundation and NHS Choices.