A study funded by the American Cancer Society says a bulging belly doubles your risk of dying within 10 years.
One of the largest studies to examine the dangers of abdominal fat used data from more than 100,000 people who were followed from 1997 to 2006. Nearly 15,000 people died during that time. The study is the first to analyze waist size and deaths for people in three BMI categories: normal, overweight and obese. In all three groups, waist size was linked to higher risk.
About two percent of people in the study had normal BMI numbers but larger than recommended waists. The risk increased progressively with increasing waist size, even at waist sizes well below what might be considered too large.
Four extra inches around the waist increased the risk of dying from between 15 percent to 25 percent. The strongest link of 25 percent was in women with normal BMI.
People with bigger waists had a higher risk of death from causes including respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer.
Other research has linked waist size to dementia, heart disease, breast cancer and asthma.
Average waistlines have expanded by about an inch per decade since the 1960s and it's a growing problem. Bulging bellies are a problem for most Americans older than 50. It's estimated that more than 70 percent of older women and more than half of older men have bigger waistlines than recommended.
The belly bulge can be deadly for older adults, even those who aren't overweight or obese by other measures. Surprisingly, bigger waists carry a greater risk of death even for people whose weight is "normal" by the body mass index (BMI-a standard measure based on weight and height).
Some older adults gain belly fat while they lose muscle mass, while they may not be getting heavier, they're changing shape and it takes a toll.
Fat stored behind the abdominal wall may be more harmful than fat stored on the hips and thighs. Some scientists believe belly fat secretes proteins and hormones that contribute to inflammation, interfere with how the body processes insulin and raise cholesterol levels.