It sounds counterintuitive, but being skinny can sometimes be more fatal than being fat.
At least, that's what a major new study discovered when researchers compared so-called "skinny-fat" people — those of normal weight who carry extra pounds around their bellies — to overweight and obese people whose fat is distributed more evenly.
After following more than 15,000 American adults for 14 years, the researchers found that participants considered "skinny-fat" actually had a greater risk of death than those with higher BMIs.
In fact, men who boasted normal weights but had high hip-to-waist ratios (translation: they were heavier around their middles) had twice the mortality risk than those who were simply considered overweight or obese. And expected lifespans overall were much lower for people who sported a "skinny spare tire" than those who weighed more but had fat spread evenly throughout.
In other words: Not all pounds are proportional when it comes to your health.
While the researchers didn't say exactly why the distribution of fat was so significant, previous research has found that visceral fat — the kind buried deep within your abdomen — tends to be much more harmful because it surrounds your vital organs. And fat in the belly, compared to, say, just around your upper arms, is also more associated with insulin resistance, the disruption of hormones and inflammation in the body.
Of course, that doesn't mean that being overweight is healthy; it's still linked to diabetes and heart disease. But it does mean that even if your BMI is considered "normal," you might still be at risk.
The good news is that if you're worried about your belly, there's a lot you can do: research shows that lifestyle changes, like exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, can help fight stomach fat.