500,000 adults in the United Kingdom, aged 40 to 69, and followed them for seven years.
The investigators found that waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference, respectively, were 15 percent and 7 percent more strongly tied to heart attack risk in women than men.
Also, compared with BMI, waist-to-hip ratio was an 18 percent stronger predictor of heart attack in women and a 6 percent stronger predictor of heart attack in men, the findings showed.
However, the biological factors that contribute to the increased risk for heart attack aren’t known, Peters said.
Further research is needed to try to determine the different ways women and men store body fat, and to understand how exactly this is linked to different health risks, she said.
“Knowing exactly how patterns of fat storage influence the risk of obesity-related conditions will yield insights into the biological mechanisms and could inform sex-specific interventions that might halt the obesity epidemic worldwide,” Peters said.
One specialist believes women must act quickly to reverse weight gain around the waist in order to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“We have had similar data in the United States that belly fat is a risk marker for heart disease,” said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.
Goldberg said she thinks fat accumulation in the gut is linked to inflammation and insulin resistance.
Both can lead to heart disease and heart attacks, she noted.
It’s possible that the risk is higher in women than men because women have a higher percentage of body fat, she suggested.
To reduce their risk, women should be conscious of weight gain around the middle, according to Goldberg, who is also director of the NYU Center for Women’s Health in New York City.
Her advice for those who find the pounds piling up around the waist: