Many studies have identified being overweight as a risk factor for a variety of health problems, ranging from diabetes to stroke and cholesterol to all-cause death.
One of the methods used by physicians to estimate body fat in patients is the body mass index, or BMI for short.
However, new research has suggested that this marker isn’t the only one that can spell bad news for your risk of premature death.
In fact, the research team found that storing fat in a different area other than your belly can also pose a risk.
The findings suggest that carrying large amounts of fat in your muscles could be even more dangerous.
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Those who amass fat in this area are twice as prone to premature death than pot-bellied or muffin-topped peers, according to the research.
The research team used artificial intelligence, or machine learning, to extract body composition metrics from abdominal CT scans on asymptomatic adults who had undergone a routine screening for bowel cancer between 2004 and 2016.
Furthermore, fat in muscles was identified in 55 percent of the 507 participants who died during an average follow-up of almost nine years.
The condition, known medically as myosteatosis, can be symptomless and lead to heart attacks or strokes.
Looking at almost 9,000 adults, the study found the mortality risk at ten years was 15.5 percent.
Those who were simply obese only had 7.6 percent higher risk of premature death.
Myosteatosis also came ahead of other factors, including fat around abdominal organs and fatty liver disease.
But despite growing evidence of the danger, it is often overlooked in the medical community.
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Lead author Dr Maxime Nachit said: “Interestingly, the relationship was independent of age or markers of obesity such as BMI.
“In other words, this means that fat accumulation in the muscles is not merely explained by being older or having fat overload in other locations of the body.”
BMI is calculated based on a patient’s height and weight, which means it’s not an accurate reflection of body composition because patients with similar BMIs can have vastly different co-comorbidities and levels of health risk.
Because of the lack of symptoms, myosteatosis is usually found in patients who are already sick and undergoing medical imaging for another illness.
Dr Nachit said: “To date, medical imaging with CT or MRI remains the gold standard to evaluate myosteatosis.
“Here, we show that myosteatosis – a parameter retrievable from medical images performed routinely in hospitals – is a robust indicator of an individual’s mortality risk at a relatively short term.”
With this in mind, the research team set out to identify the associations between myosteatosis and mortality risk.
The research was published in the journal Radiology.
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