HealthDay News — Carrying more weight around the belly may increase the risk for sudden cardiac death, researchers found.

Risk for sudden cardiac death increased along with waist-to-hip ratio (P=0.009 for trend) among patients who participated in a cohort study, Selcuk Adabag, MD, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis reported at the annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society.

Adabag and colleagues found that other measures of obesity, such as BMI and waist circumference,  had no association with sudden cardiac death after accounting for numerous other obesity-related comorbidities.

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The study included 15,156 people aged 45 to 64 years in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities cohort that were enrolled in 1987 and 1989. During the 12.6 year follow-up researches identified 301 sudden cardiac deaths, defined as a death that occurred within one hour of symptom onset when witnessed, or within 24 hours of being seen alive when unwitnessed.

All three obesity indices — BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio — correlated with sudden cardiac death after adjusting for age, gender, race, study center, education level, smoking status, and family history of coronary heart disease (P≤0.005 for all three trends). However, only the association between waist-to-hip ratio and sudden cardiac death persisted after further adjustment for diabetes, low-density lipoprotein level, hypertension, prevalent coronary heart disease, heart failure and left ventricular hypertrophy.

“[This study shows} that abdominal obesity is an independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death even after accounting for factors such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease,” Adabag said in a statement. “Physicians should make obesity prevention and treatment a priority to reduce the risk of coronary disease as well as sudden cardiac death.”

Waist-to-hip ratio should be incorporated into patient counseling, the researchers noted, even though it is not often measured in clinical practice, and patients may not be as familiar with it as they are with other obesity markers such as BMI.

Adabag S et al. “Risk of sudden cardiac death in obese individuals: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.” HRS 2012; Abstract #PO1-67.