A study involving people with diabetes has shown that belly size is a stronger predictor of a dangerous kind of heart disease than body mass index, researchers said Saturday.
The study released at the American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago was based on 200 people with diabetes who had not shown any symptoms of heart disease.
Researchers found that those with larger waist circumferences were more likely than smaller-bellied people to have problems with the heart's left ventricle, which pumps oxygen-rich blood to the brain and the rest of the body.
"We specifically found that waist circumference appears to be a stronger predictor for left ventricle dysfunction than total body weight or body mass index," said principal investigator Boaz Rosen, a doctor at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
Previous research has shown that the higher a person's body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of a person's height and weight -- the greater their risk of heart disease.
Having excess belly fat, or having an apple-shaped figure, has already been linked to high blood pressure, high sugar levels, elevated cholesterol, coronary artery disease and heart failure.
"Our research examined patients with diabetes, who are considered high risk for developing heart disease already, and found that the shape of your body determined if you were at a greater risk to develop left ventricular dysfunction," said Brent Muhlestein, co-director of research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City.
"This study confirms that having an apple-shaped body -- or a high waist circumference -- can lead to heart disease, and that reducing your waist size can reduce your risks."
Problems with the left ventricle can lead to congestive heart failure.
Researchers said more study is needed to see if diabetic patients with large waists and signs of heart problems go on to develop heart failure or artery disease in the future.