Background: Previous studies have relied predominantly on the body-mass index (BMI, the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) to assess the association of adiposity with the risk of death, but few have examined whether the distribution of body fat contributes to the prediction of death.
Methods: We examined the association of BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio with the risk of death among 359,387 participants from nine countries in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). We used a Cox regression analysis, with age as the time variable, and stratified the models according to study center and age at recruitment, with further adjustment for educational level, smoking status, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and height.
Results: During a mean follow-up of 9.7 years, 14,723 participants died. The lowest risks of death related to BMI were observed at a BMI of 25.3 for men and 24.3 for women. After adjustment for BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio were strongly associated with the risk of death. Relative risks among men and women in the highest quintile of waist circumference were 2.05 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.80 to 2.33) and 1.78 (95% CI, 1.56 to 2.04), respectively, and in the highest quintile of waist-to-hip ratio, the relative risks were 1.68 (95% CI, 1.53 to 1.84) and 1.51 (95% CI, 1.37 to 1.66), respectively. BMI remained significantly associated with the risk of death in models that included waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio (P<0.001).
Conclusions: These data suggest that both general adiposity and abdominal adiposity are associated with the risk of death and support the use of waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio in addition to BMI in assessing the risk of death.