CHICAGO — If your pants are feeling a bit tight around the waistline, take note: Belly bulge can be deadly for older adults, even those who aren't overweight or obese by other measures.
One of the largest studies to examine the dangers of abdominal fat suggests men and women with the biggest waistlines have twice the risk of dying over a decade compared with those with the smallest tummies.
Surprisingly, bigger waists carry a greater risk of death even for people whose weight is "normal" by the body mass index, or BMI, a standard measure based on weight and height.
"Even if you haven't had a noticeable weight gain, if you notice your waist size increasing, that's an important sign," said lead author Eric Jacobs of the American Cancer Society, which funded the study, appearing in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine. "It's time to eat better and start exercising more."
Other studies have linked waist size to dementia, heart disease, asthma and breast cancer.
Bulging bellies are a problem for most Americans older than 50. It's estimated that more than half of older men and more than 70 percent of older women have bigger waistlines than recommended.
To check your girth, wrap a tape measure around your waist at the navel. No fair sucking in your bulge. Men should have a waist circumference no larger than 40 inches. For women, the limit is 35 inches.