Even a modest beer belly may double your heart disease risk

London: Do you have a layer of flab around the stomach? Beware, it may double your risk of dying from heart disease or strokes, scientists say.

A US study of nearly 16,000 patients with coronary heart disease found that having a "modest" beer belly, or muffin top, can be as dangerous as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day or having very high cholesterol.

The findings by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester add to the evidence that heart problems and furred arteries are not just linked to how much fat people have, but also to the location of the fat, the Daily Mail reported.

Past studies have shown that "apple-shaped" women with fat around their waists are at greater risk than "pear-shaped" women whose fat is on their hips.

For their study, the Mayo researchers looked at data from 15,923 patients with coronary heart disease and found that those with fat around their waists were twice as likely to die from the disease.

Study author Dr Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, said that fat around the waist was more metabolically active.

"It produces more chances in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar," he said.

"However, people who have fat mostly in other locations in the body, specifically the legs and buttocks, don`t show this increased risk."

Doctors often assess a patient`s risk of coronary artery disease by looking at their body mass index — a measure that takes into account someone`s weight and height.

However, the study authors said doctors should advise patients with heart disease with normal BMIs to shed weight if they have a large waist or high waist-to-hip ratio.

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.