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Most doctors do not measure patient waists

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WASHINGTON, Sep 20, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Most U.S. doctors do not measure their patients' waist circumferences to monitor for heart-disease risk, a new survey reveals.

In addition, the survey -- a joint effort between the World Heart Federation and Sanofi-Aventis -- found most Americans are unaware that abdominal fat is a leading heart-disease risk factor.

The two organizations released the "Shape of the Nations" survey Monday, in advance of World Heart Day on Sept. 25.

"Sanofi-Aventis joined with the World Heart Federation, as they are a powerful voice on cardiovascular health, to highlight the need for great awareness of the increased risk of heart disease posed by excess abdominal fat," Julissa Viana, a company spokeswoman, told United Press International.

The survey found 62 percent of physicians do not regularly measure waist circumference. In addition, more than half of the physicians overestimated the 40-inch threshold for men that indicates excess fat, and 20 percent did not know the corresponding 35-inch waist measurement where women are considered at risk.

"In my clinic, we measure for waist circumference as a vital sign, but sometimes you can look at them without getting a tape measurement," Dr. Robert H. Eckel, president of the American Heart Association, told UPI.

Eckel said the message needs to be emphasized that abdominal fat is a leading cause of heart disease, because many physicians forget to measure and many people are surprised to learn their waist circumference is above the risk level.

"Waist circumference is a very important measure of cardiovascular risk," Sidney Smith, chairman of the WHF's scientific advisory board, said in a news release. "For example, we know that patients with increasing abdominal obesity -- when occurring with other cardiovascular risk factors including dyslipidaemia, hypertension and raised glucose levels -- are at risk of heart disease. Therefore, measuring waist circumference is an easy, low-cost indicator that should be added to measurements of other cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, lipid levels and blood glucose."

The survey also found 60 percent of Americans do not know that intra-abdominal fat -- fat around the midsection deep within the body -- is associated with heart disease. U.S. respondents ranked abdominal fat as the sixth-leading cause of heart disease, while some physicians ranked it as having the same impact as high cholesterol.

Other leading causes of heart disease include high blood sugar, low HDL or good cholesterol, high triglycerides and smoking, but a combination of these risk factors creates a greater hazard for the patient to develop heart disease.

Eckel said it is not entirely clear how abdominal fat contributes to heart disease, but typically a person with more fat around the abdomen is a more obese person.

One theory suggests because abdominal fat represents an excessive accumulation of fat cells hidden deep within the body's midsection, it acts not only as a storage depot, but also as the source of many different chemical substances that can interfere with normal metabolism.

Nearly 46 percent of U.S. adults have excess abdominal fat, Viana said.

Eckel said controlling body weight overall should be a top goal, and the AHA supports measuring waist circumference as an indicator of heart-disease risk.


Andrew Damstadt is an intern for UPI. E-mail:

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

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