Abdominal fat linked to women’s heart attack risk

In elderly women, there appears to be no association between obesity in itself and the odds of having a heart attack, researchers report. However, fat distribution does have an effect - in particular, the amount of “visceral adipose tissue” or abdominal fat.

“Visceral adiposity was an independent risk factor for (heart attack) in these women,” Dr. Barbara J. Nicklas told AMN Health.

Nicklas, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and colleagues examined data from participants recruited between 1997 and 1998 for the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study.

The “well-functioning” subjects were between 70 and 79 year old, 1116 were men and 1387 were women.

After an average follow-up of 4-1/2 years, there were 116 heart attacks among the participants: 45 in women and 71 in men.

The team reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology that they saw no association between heart attacks and adiposity or fat distribution in the men.

In the women, although there was no association with total fat mass, visceral adipose tissue increased the risk of having a heart attack by 67 percent.

These and other findings, the researchers conclude, show that “although the absolute volume of visceral fat may be relatively small, it is the best obesity-related predictor” of heart attack in elderly, well-functioning women.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, October 15, 2004.

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Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.