Women with an apple-shaped body may be at greater risk for a heart attack, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The research shows that higher waist and hip sizes are more strongly associated with heart attack than overall obesity, especially among women.
"Men and women aren't the same, I think we’ve known that for a long time,” said Dr. Troy Leo, a cardiologist for Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute at Atrium Health. “But the study is showing us that women do have different body types, and those may lead to higher risk of heart disease."
The study out of the United Kingdom looked at nearly 500,000 adults aged 40 to 69. The study finds obesity and obesity around the abdomen each pose risks for heart attacks in men and women, but women were more negatively impacted by higher waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio than men.
“Women are more prone to heart attacks than we think,” Dr. Leo said. “I think one of the things about this study is we haven’t studied the differences between men and women enough.”
Dr. Leo said doctors have traditionally looked at weight and BMI as risk factors for heart attacks, but this study shows that there may be better markers to prevent cardiovascular disease, including where fat is distributed when it comes to women.
"We will need to look at our patients individually,” Leo said, “especially look at our female patients and say, ‘Here are the things that we need to look out for. Here are the things you need to look out for in order to prevent heart attacks."
Travis Chilcot, owner of Nutrition Healthworks said a person’s body type is mostly predetermined.
"It really kind of depends on what your genetics have in place based on mother and father,” Chilcot said.
Hormones can also play a factor, he said, but it can be difficult to change your body type.
Chilcot said the apple body type can be especially dangerous if a person is obese, because the body stores fat in the abdomen.
“When you’re carrying it more around the mid-section, you know, it’s surrounding your liver. It’s surrounding your heart, things like that,” Chilcot said. “it’s actually putting a fat layer around those internal organs, which can, of course, cause a lot of issues.”
It may be difficult to only lose weight in the belly area, Chilcot said, but exercising regularly, doing weight training, and eating a nutritious diet can improve overall health and weight.
"Just even getting up and walking, moving more than you're sitting would be ideal,” he added.