Study Shows Obese Individuals Carrying Weight In Abdominal Region Have Double The Risk Of Sudden Cardiac Death

A new study presented at Heart Rhythm 2012 shows waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is more significant than body mass index (BMI) when indicating risk for sudden cardiac death

May 09, 2012

Media Contact

Ken Demith
Heart Rhythm Society

BOSTON, May 9, 2012 – For the first time, a significant and direct correlation has been shown between the specific region of the body where obese individuals carry their weight and the increased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD).  Specifically, obese individuals with an “apple” shape figure, or larger waste-to-hip ratio (WHR), are at greater risk than those with a more “pear” shaped figure, or smaller WHR.  These findings are being presented today at Heart Rhythm 2012, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 33rd Annual Scientific Sessions. View the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death in Obese Individuals: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study abstract.

An analysis of the more than 15,000 people enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC), a United States prospective biracial cohort study, showed that not only does obesity have a linear association with SCD in the general population, but even more importantly, people who have a larger WHR, or carry their weight in the abdominal region, have double the risk of SCD.

Of the more than 300 people in the study who experienced SCD over approximately 13 years, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and WHR were all associated with SCD after adjusting for age, sex, race, study center, educational level, smoking status and family history of coronary heart disease.  

Moreover, after further adjusting for obesity-related co-morbidities including diabetes, low-density lipoprotein, hypertension, prevalent coronary heart disease, heart failure and left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), only WHR was independently associated with SCD.

“The significance of this study is that it shows that abdominal obesity is an independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death even after accounting for factors such as diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease,” said Selcuk Adabag, MD, MS, lead author, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  “Physicians should make obesity prevention and treatment a priority to reduce the risk of coronary disease as well as sudden cardiac death.”

Obesity continues to be a public health problem in the United States with two-thirds of adults and one-third of children reportedly overweight or obese.i,ii Additionally, according to the Heart Rhythm Society, SCD is responsible for more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.iii  While obesity is often recognized as a moderate risk factor for SCD, there have been gaps in the literature around the nature of this association. 

Sessions details:

“Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death in Obese Individuals: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study” [Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. EDT, Exhibit Hall]

Heart Rhythm 2012 is the most comprehensive educational program for heart rhythm professionals, featuring more than 250 educational sections and more than 130 innovative products and services. The Heart Rhythm Society’s Annual Scientific Sessions have become the must-attend event of the year, allowing the exchange of new vital ideas and information among colleagues from every corner of the globe.

About the Heart Rhythm Society

The Heart Rhythm Society is the international leader in science, education, and advocacy for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients, and the primary information resource on heart rhythm disorders. Its mission is to improve the care of patients by promoting research, education, and optimal health care policies and standards. Incorporated in 1979 and based in Washington, DC, it has a membership of more than 6,000 heart rhythm professionals in more than 72 countries around the world. For more information, visit