Excessive belly fat is a risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a study led by a group of German and American researchers published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
For ten years (1995-2005), researchers observed 113,279 people in the U.S. aged 50 to 70 years with no respiratory or heart disease and no cancer with the goal of understanding the influence of belly fat, body mass index, and physical activity levels in the development of COPD.
The results suggested that people with larger waist circumference (110 cm or more in women and 118 cm or more in men) had their risk of developing COPD increased by 72% both for smokers and non-smokers.
According to co-author Dr. Gundula Behrens from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine of the University of Regensburg, Germany, the fat factor was more related to COPD in the specific case of the belly than total body fat, since fat “emerged as a significant predictor of increased risk of COPD only among those with large waist circumference.” Moreover, authors believe that “increased local, abdominal and overall fat depots increase local and systemic inflammation, thus potentially stimulating COPD-related processes in the lung.”
Researchers also tried to assess the relationship between physical exercise and COPD as another risk factor. The team observed that even people with a large hip circumference were 29% less likely to develop COPD if they exercised at least 5 times a week.
Still, fat is not the only major risk factor when it comes to weight. The team also observed that underweight people were also 56% more likely to develop COPD, a phenomena possibly explained by “malnutrition and reduced muscle mass leading to increased COPD susceptibility,” according to the authors.
These observations led the research team to believe that besides smoking prevention, weight and physical activity control may have a positive influence on helping people avoid COPD , and that physicians have an important role in encouraging patients to adopt these “guidelines” as a way of prevention.