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Shape up around the waist!

How many of us women share the same waist size we had in our twenties?  Very very few, I would think; after all as we age it is pretty well accepted as normal that we would add a few inches around our waist, even if we are still fit and within the recommended BMI limits.

But now it seems this is something we should be looking at a lot more seriously.  Usha Menon is Professor of Gynaecological Oncology at University College London and has an international reputation for her investigations into various aspects of cancer.  She has recently led a a cohort study as part of a UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening which has indicated that going up several skirt sizes in midlife can indicate an increased cancer risk.

The study showed that women who steadily increased their skirt size every decade had a 33% higher risk of developing breast cancer after the menopause.

The study involved nearly 100,000 women in their 50s and 60s across England and showed that going up two skirt sizes (ie from size 10 to size 14) between the age of 25 and your post-menopausal age increases your risk by a third or more.

Fat tissue, which can accumulate around the waist, can be the body’s main source of estrogen after the menopause, when the ovaries stop producing the hormone. Therefore having more fat tissue will result in higher estrogen levels which can increase the risk of breast cancer.

Some researchers suspect that the drop in estrogen levels at menopause is also linked to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat.

The whole case of mid body or abdominal fat has been studied elsewhere with some interesting results. Generally, abdominal fat is either visceral, which means it surrounds abdominal organs, or subcutaneous which means it is lying between the skin and the abdominal wall.

Several studies have already shown that visceral fat is strongly related with risk factors such as insulin resistance which can prelude type 2 diabetes and overall, evidence is mounting up to show abdominal fat correlates with a range of increased health risks.

Waist measurement will only indicate abdominal fat levels. A good way to check it is to run a tape measure around your body at the level of your navel. Breathe lightly and don’t pull the tape measure so tightly that it compresses the skin. In women with a BMI level of 25 to 34.9; a waist circumference of more than 35 inches is now considered to be high risk, and there is also some increased risk with those with waist measurements of more than 33 inches.  Interestingly, for Asian women, a waist circumference above 31.5 inches is considered a health risk.

Either way, it is back to the same message that we already should be aware of; keeping our weight within sensible limits will bring many health benefits.

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