A new Mayo Clinic study has caused a stir amongst the health community as it suggests that people who are of normal weight but have a large concentration of fat over their abdomen (belly fat) are at higher risk than those who are obese.

The study examined data on 12,785 people aged 18 years and older and found that the risk of cardiovascular (heart-related) death was 2.75 times higher and the risk of death from overall causes was 2.08 times higher for those with belly fat than those who were of normal weight without the belly fat.

According to Dr. David Dannenbaum of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, the overall message is about living healthy.

“You have to read between the lines. If you are a couch potato and skinny versus someone who is very active and overweight, you may be better off being the latter.

“The truth is that most overweight people are nowhere near as active and so those in the active and overweight category is very small. Most overweight people can’t be that active because they are overweight or aren’t that active and that is why they are overweight,” said Dannenbaum.

Belly fat, however, can be very dangerous as rather than just being a bit of pudge around the midsection it is actually its own organ. Belly fat, medically known as visceral fat, secretes a series of different hormones, some of which are not yet identified.

According to Dannenbaum, it is these new hormones that could be the real danger.

“There are many new studies on leptin and adenonectin. These are new hormones that are being secreted by this visceral fat that they think could be behind what is causing all of this insulin resistance. This is why they are focusing on visceral fat with a lot of new medications, although there isn’t any medication that can lower or get rid of your visceral fat. The only way to do that is through diet and exercising,” said Dannenbaum.

And, the Crees of James Bay should pay particular attention to this new information as having the type of body where an individual is thin except for their midsection is quite common.

While belly fat may increase the risk for disease and death, Dannenbaum said that this issue shouldn’t be blown out of proportion as that risk is all relative, with the percentages only having been raised minimally.

At the same time, he stressed that it is important for people to understand what their wasitlines should look like and work on that. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, men should be aiming for a waist measurement of 102 centimetres (40.2 inches) to start off with and 88 cm (34.6 in) for women. Eventually the ideal waist measurement should be 90 cm for men (35.4 in) and 80 cm for women (31.5 in).

The most important thing to mention is that there is no pill that you can take; you need to do something about it yourself. It doesn’t require a lot of weight loss and it doesn’t require running marathons. But it does require eating healthier foods and doing more physical activity.

“This is the kind of success story that we see, those who can gradually make changes and then maintain them and feel comfortable with them. Usually these people will feel a lot better, enough to make other changes,” said Dannenbaum.