For years we've been told that people with "central obesity"—also known as an "apple" body type—were at greater risk of developing heart disease than people with a "pear" shape, whose fat is clustered around their thighs and buttocks. However, a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet dispels that notion.

While the study did confirm that being obese (having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it concluded that how the fat is distributed on the body is irrelevant to that risk. The finding comes from analyzing data of 58 studies of more than 220,000 people who had no previous history of heart disease. Researchers looked at the weight, hip measurement, waist measurement, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other information of the study participants and followed them for a decade, during which time about 14,000 suffered heart attacks or strokes.

Conventional risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and smoking were accurate predictors of a heart attack or stroke, but body shape (as determined by measuring waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio) did not improve the ability to predict heart disease risk. When it comes to heart health, concluded the researchers, all obesity types are equally bad.

Losing Weight the Healthy Way

The problem of obesity has reached epidemic proportions with over a third of Americans falling into the obese category and another third considered overweight. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Adopting healthy eating habits and forgoing crash or fad diets, says the American Heart Association (AHA), can help you lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Before embarking on any diet plan, be sure to check with your doctor to help determine the most effective one for you. In general, sticking to a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and fat-free or lowfat dairy products, as well as maintaining regular physical activity, will help you lose weight and keep the pounds from returning.

The AHA also recommends that you:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Cut back on salt intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams, or one teaspoon, of sodium a day, and limit beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

New York Times. "Patterns: For Heart Risk, No Telltale Body Shape." By Roni Caryn Rabin.

Reuters. " 'Apple' obesity heart risk theory goes pear-shaped." By Kate Kelland.

American Heart Association. Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.