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News > Abdominal circumference indicates disease risk
Abdominal circumference indicates disease risk

Posted 3/23/2011   Updated 3/23/2011 Email story   Print story


by Health and Wellness Center
375th Air Mobility Wing

3/23/2011 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.  -- Since the launch of the new Air Force Fitness Program, many questions have come up about the abdominal circumference measurement especially pertaining to why height, weight, and age are not factored into the score.

The answer: your health.

Other military branches use height and weight tables or body fat taping to assess body composition under DoDI 1308.3, "DoD Physical Fitness and Body Fat Programs Procedures." However, the Air Force has a permanent waiver from the Department of Defense to use abdominal circumference because increased waist measurements have been found to be a better indicator of disease risk.

Abdominal fat is different from the subcutaneous fat you can pinch on your belly. It is fat that is inside your abdomen, and is actually around and inside your organs. It has been found to increase risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep disorders, breathing issues, cancers, metabolic syndrome, and early death. According to a 2004 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, every extra inch on your waist measurement increases your risk for many medical conditions, including high blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Not only does this measurement contribute to your fitness score, but also classifies you as low, moderate, or high risk of developing chronic disease in accordance with the Air Force Fitness Standards (AFI 36-2905).

In another study from the Archives of Internal Medicine in August of 2010, researchers found that even after adjusting for obesity level, that abdominal circumference was an independent risk factor for early death in a population of 100,000. A 2008 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that abdominal circumference measurement was as good as a CT scan in predicting abdominal fat.

According to the annual WebHA survey that all active duty Airmen complete each year, 10.5 percent of Scott AFB members are categorized as "high risk" based on their abdominal circumference of more than 35.5 inches for women and more than 39 inches for men. Just 58 percent of Scott active duty Airmen are categorized as "low risk" based on abdominal circumferences of less than 32 inches for women and less than 35 inches for men. These numbers are evidence that despite the existence of fitness standards, the Air Force population is not immune to the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S.

On average, Americans gain 1-2 pounds every year, which equates to between 20-40 pounds over a 20-year military career. Despite how "normal" this weight increase may seem it's still unhealthy.

"Healthy weight maintenance is still important as we age, across the entire age spectrum. Excess weight plays a huge role in many chronic disease states," said Christine Cooley, HAWC dietitian. "Thanks to modern medicine many of us are living longer; however, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can also help manage and prevent many diseases. Medication can only take you so far, maintaining a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle can help these medications work better for you. Quality of life matters in these years that we get to live longer."

As people age, their metabolisms slow down--this is why even though their eating habits haven't changed people gain weight as their age.

"It's essential that people decrease their calorie consumption or increase calorie expenditure to compensate for the slowed metabolism associated with aging," said Ms. Cooley. "Additionally, many people overestimate the calorie expenditure from exercise and underestimate calorie intake from food. Extreme portion sizes, the vast availability of unhealthy food, and sedentary life styles are the primary culprits for ever-expanding waistlines."

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not only going to increase your fitness test score, but you can significantly improve your overall health and resiliency.

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