Man measuring the size of his stomach

People with a normal BMI who carry weight around the middle at greatest risk of death

People with a normal BMI who carry their weight around the middle are at the highest risk of death from any cause compared to those who are overweight or obese but carry their weight elsewhere, Loughborough research has found.

For the study Professors Mark Hamer and David Stensel and Dr Gary O’Donovan from the University’s School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences measured 42,702 participants from 10 different years of the annual Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey.

They wanted to see if a large scale analysis would have similar results to previous smaller scale studies, which found normal-weight individuals with central obesity had the worst long-term survival, even when compared to overweight and obese participants with central obesity.

For the new study participants were categorized as normal weight; normal weight with central obesity; overweight; overweight with central obesity; obese; or obese with central obesity based on BMI and waist-hip ratio.

The researchers found that when compared with the normal weight participants without central obesity, only normal weight and obese people with central obesity were at increased risk for all-cause mortality. All participants with central obesity, regardless of BMI, were at increased risk for cardiovascular deaths.

Speaking about the findings Professor Mark Hamer said: “Our research does back up the findings of previous smaller scale studies which show normal weight people with central obesity are at increased risk for all-cause mortality. 

“It is yet further evidence that even if you are within a ‘healthy’ BMI range but you carry weight around your stomach your health is still at risk.  The message here is that if you do have central obesity, no matter what your BMI, you should take steps to reduce this fat.” 

The observational study was published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), which is a partnership between Loughborough University, University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and the University of Leicester. As part of the BRC, Loughborough leads the ‘Lifestyle theme’, which focuses on physical activity behaviour and obesity related diseases.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 17/63

Loughborough University is equipped with a live in-house broadcast unit via the Globelynx network. To arrange an interview with one of our experts please contact the press office on 01509 223491. Bookings can be made online via

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world to study sports-related subjects in the 2017 QS World University Rankings and top in the country for its student experience in the 2016 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough was ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2017 and 10th in The UK Complete University Guide 2018 and was also named Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes. 

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.