Large Waist Size May Lead to Troubled Breathing

Excess belly fat is strongly associated with impaired lung function, according to a recent study. Researchers analyzed information from more than 120,000 people and found that the larger a person's waist size, the smaller their forced vital capacity—the maximum volume of air that a person can exhale after breathing in as much air as possible.

Women and men with abdominal obesity were twice as likely as those with a normal waist size to have a low forced vital capacity. The association between waist size and lung function was seen even in people of normal weight.

Excess belly fat may affect breathing by pushing on the diaphragm and chest wall, making it harder for the lungs to fill with air. The American Heart Association considers a waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men to be abnormal. For people of Asian descent, waist circumference should be less than 31 inches for women and less than 37 inches for men.

If you have a large waist and are experiencing breathing problems, the two may be connected. Visit your doctor, who can assess your weight and lung function. The study didn't look at whether losing weight can help improve lung function, but previous research has suggested that it can.

Source:American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Volume 179, page 509; March 15, 2009

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 12 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 03 Feb 2015