Women with an apple-shaped figure are at greater risk of suffering heart attacks, Oxford researchers have found.
A study of 500,000 Britons has revealed that waist-to-hip ratio is one of the biggest predictors of heart problems and has a greater impact on cardiovascular health than obesity alone.
Apple-shaped women, with proportionally larger waists than hips, are thought to be particularly vulnerable. This is because those with big waists store lots of fat around their vital organs, say scientists.
The researchers found women with this body shape are at greater risk than men with big waists and have called for heart screening for all women with a similar figure in light of the findings.
They calculated that women with the highest sixth of hip-to-waist ratios were at 49 % increased risk of having a heart attack over the next seven years. They said this is an 18 % stronger indicator of a heart attack than being overweight.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that men with large waists were also at increased risk, but to a lesser extent than women.
Males with the highest sixth of hip-to-waist ratios were 36 per cent more likely to suffer heart attacks than others a 6 per cent stronger indicator than obesity alone. Study leader Dr Sanne Peters, research fellow in epidemiology at The George Institute at Oxford University, said: Looking at how fat tissue is distributed in the body especially in women can give us more insight into the risk of heart attack than measures of general obesity.'
The World Health Organisation suggests men with waists bigger than 40in (102cm) and women with waists bigger than 35in (88cm) face a substantially increased risk of conditions such as diabetes.
Dr Peters added: We need further research to try to disentangle the different ways women and men store body fat and understand how, and why, this is linked to different health risks.'