Woman’s Health Initiative Analysis Confirms Consistent Relationship Between Central Obesity and Mortality

HealthDay News — Among women 70 to 79, being overweight or obese doesn’t appear to shorten life span — unless the weight is centered around the waist; however, being underweight does appear to shorten life span, according to a study published online in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Zhao Chen, PhD, of the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and colleagues reviewed data on 161,808 women aged 50 to 79 who took part in the Woman’s Health Initiative. At the start of the study, the researchers measured the height, weight, and waist size of all the participants and recorded other lifestyle data.

During 11 years of follow-up, 18,320 women died. The researchers found being underweight was associated with higher mortality, but being overweight or slightly obese didn’t affect life span. Class II or class III obesity increased the odds of early death by around 10%. Higher waist circumference was consistently tied to higher mortality rates during the study. The researchers also found that the risk of mortality increased when waist circumference measured more than 31.5 inches, and they classified anything above nearly 35 inches as an extreme risk. Hispanic women were somewhat protected — they had lower mortality rates at any waist measurement or body mass index level than white or black women.

“Underweight is a significant risk factor for mortality in older women, and healthy body mass index ranges may need to be specific for age, race, and ethnicity,” the authors write. “The findings support a consistent relationship between central obesity and mortality.”

Related Articles


Chen Z, Klimentidis YC, Bea JW, et al. Body mass index, waist circumference, and mortality in a large multiethnic postmenopausal cohort — results from the Women’s Health Initiative [published online February 23, 2017]. J Am Geriatr Soc. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14790