It's been known for a while that having a pot belly, even if you are slim elsewhere, increases the odds of having a first heart attack, but the latest study, which published Monday in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, is the first time researchers have found a link between belly fat and the risk of a subsequent heart attack or stroke.
The link was particularly strong in men, researchers said.
"Abdominal obesity not only increases your risk for a first heart attack or stroke, but also the risk for recurrent events after the first misfortune," said Dr. Hanieh Mohammadi of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, in a news release.
"Maintaining a healthy waist circumference is important for preventing future heart attacks and strokes regardless of how many drugs you may be taking or how healthy your blood tests are."
The study found that belly fat was associated with heart attacks and stroke independent of other risk factors like smoking, diabetes, hypertension, body mass index and prevention treatments. The researchers stressed that waist circumference was a more important marker than overall obesity and advised doctors to measure their patient's waists to identify those at risk.
However, they said that the link was stronger and more linear in men, who made up nearly three-fourths of the patients included in the study, than women.