New research claims that abdominal obesity is a better guide to the risk of developing heart disease than body mass index (BMI).
Scientists from University Laval in Canada told a conference of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta this week that excess fat around the waist is a far better indicator as to the dangers of developing heart problems than the BMI measure which combines height and weight.
The study, conducted on 168,000 people worldwide, found that for every 14cm of waist size put on by men, the danger of heart disease rose by between 21 and 40 per cent.
The dangers of heart disease increased by the same margin for every 14.9cm put on by women.
The researchers claim that fat around the abdomen is more dangerous than on any other part of the body as it raises cholesterol levels and resistance to insulin and releases toxins in to the bloodstream.
"The importance and the clinical significance of these results will...aid us in identifying patients most at risk," said Jean-Pierre Despres, director of cardiology research at the University.
It is thought that obesity kills around 30,000 people in the UK each year.