A new study has uncovered more bad news for those with “love handles” or a “spare tire” around their waist. Researchers found that a high waist circumference is strongly associated with decreased lung function—independent of smoking history, sex, body mass index (BMI), and other complicating factors.
The study analyzed health information on more that 120,000 people and assessed demographic background, smoking history, alcohol consumption, lung function including forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC), waist circumference, and other measures of metabolic health. Abdominal obesity was defined as having a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.

“After adjustment for age, sex, BMI, smoking status, alcohol consumption, leisure time physical activity, and cardiovascular history, metabolic syndrome remained independently associated with lung function impairment,” writes lead author Natalie Leone, MD, of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research. “We found a positive independent relationship between lung function impairment and metabolic syndrome due mainly to abdominal obesity.

“This association may result from the mechanical effects of truncal obesity and/or the metabolic effects of adipose tissue,” says Leone. “Abdominal obesity may mechanically affect the diaphragm and chest wall compliance with decreased lung volumes.”
“I believe there is now enough evidence to recommend that waist circumference always be measured before spirometry tests. Abdominal obesity could then be highlighted on the printed report so that the physician interpreting the report could take the effect of obesity into account,” wrote Paul Enright, MD, of the University of Arizona, in an accompanying editorial.

The results were published in the second issue for March of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.