Context: Obesity is a well-established risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), but whether regional fat distribution contributes independently to risk remains unclear.
Objective: To compare waist-hip ratio (WHR) and waist circumference in determining risk of CHD in women.
Design and setting: Prospective cohort study among US female registered nurses participating in the Nurses' Health Study conducted between 1986, when the nurses completed a questionnaire, and follow-up in June 1994.
Participants: A total of 44702 women aged 40 to 65 years who provided waist and hip circumferences and were free of prior CHD, stroke, or cancer in 1986.
Main outcome measures: Incidence of CHD (nonfatal myocardial infarction or CHD death).
Results: During 8 years of follow-up 320 CHD events (251 myocardial infarctions and 69 CHD deaths) were documented. Higher WHR and greater waist circumference were independently associated with a significantly increased age-adjusted risk of CHD. After adjusting for body mass index (BMI) (defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) and other cardiac risk factors, women with a WHR of 0.88 or higher had a relative risk (RR) of 3.25 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.78-5.95) for CHD compared with women with a WHR of less than 0.72. A waist circumference of 96.5 cm (38 in) or more was associated with an RR of 3.06 (95% CI, 1.54-6.10). The WHR and waist circumference were independently strongly associated with increased risk of CHD also among women with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or less. After adjustment for reported hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol level, a WHR of 0.76 or higher or waist circumference of 76.2 cm (30 in) or more was associated with more than a 2-fold higher risk of CHD.
Conclusions: The WHR and waist circumference are independently associated with risk of CHD in women.