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The Deadly Difference Between Apples and Pears

New NWHRC Metabolic Syndrome Campaign Urges Women to Think About Their Shape, Not Just Their Weight

Washignton, DC - The not-for-profit National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) today warned women with a waist circumference of more than 34 inches, or considered "apple" shaped, that they may be at a greater risk of having metabolic syndrome and on their way to serious health issues.

Abdominal fat is one marker for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors associated with obesity. That's because fat around your abdomen, called visceral fat, which tends to accumulate more in women after menopause, produces hormones and other chemicals that change the way certain systems in your body work. For instance, they increase the amount of inflammation in blood vessels, which can lead to a buildup of plaque on vessel walls. Women diagnosed with metabolic syndrome significantly increase their risk of developing atherosclerosis, the end result of coronary-artery clogging plaque, and a major contributor to heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

"This data tells us more about the lives of women who have uterine fibroids, and it is clear that significant progress has been made to educate women about the treatment alternatives available," said Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive vice president of NWHRC. "However, there is still plenty of opportunity to continue to increase the awareness of less invasive therapies and for women to discuss those therapies with their physician before making a treatment decision."

While you're more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you're overweight, not everyone who is overweight has it. And, you can have metabolic syndrome even if you are not overweight.

"By educating women about the relationship between weight and metabolic syndrome, we hope to show women that it's not just the numbers on the scale to consider, but rather where they are carrying the excess pounds," said Audrey Sheppard, president and CEO of NWHRC. "A woman may not be clinically overweight or obese, but if her waist is more than 34 inches, she should see this as a warning sign of possible health problems to come."

It is estimated that 24 percent of Americans over age 20 and 44 percent of Americans over 50, have metabolic syndrome. You are also 3.5 times more likely to die from coronary heart disease if you have metabolic syndrome than someone who does not have it. And while it is not a direct cause of diabetes, metabolic syndrome is a strong predictor of the disease. The reason so many Americans have metabolic syndrome is related to three things: weight, lack of exercise and genetics.

According to the NWHRC, you have metabolic syndrome if you have three of the following five risk factors:

  • A waist circumference more than 34 inches (more than 40 inches in men)

  • A fasting blood glucose level of 110 mg/dL or higher (considered a marker for insulin resistance), or if you are taking medication for high glucose levels

  • Triglycerides at or above 150 mg/dL

  • An HDL-cholesterol level below 50 mg/dL (at or below 40 mg/dL in men), or if you are on medication to increase HDL

  • A blood pressure level at or above 130 mm Hg systolic (the top number) or 85 mm Hg diastolic (the bottom number) or you are taking medication for high blood pressure.

The metabolic syndrome campaign was developed in response to NWHRC's recently released Women Talk annual survey which focused on women's attitudes towards weight management. In the survey, the overwhelming majority of women, regardless of age or ethnicity, understood the health risks of being overweight (97%), and agree that they have the information necessary to maintain a healthy weight (89%). Yet seven in 10 (70%) women report they are worried about themselves or a family member being overweight.

"Based on our survey findings, we wanted to help women build on their understanding of weight-related health issues and turn their worries into action," continued Sheppard. "By encouraging women to talk with their health care provider about metabolic syndrome, women can learn how to treat and even prevent it with proper diet and exercise. The important message here is that women and their health care providers should be talking about metabolic syndrome."

As part of NWHRC's commitment to educating women on the dangers of metabolic syndrome, the following print and online materials have been developed and are available for free at the organization's Metabolic Syndrome Health Center at

  • National Women's Health Report: Women & Obesity
  • Women's Health Update: Metabolic Syndrome & Your Health
  • Fast Facts for Your Health: Type 2 Diabetes & Your Health
  • Fast Facts for Your Health: High Blood Pressure & Your Health
  • Women's Health Tips: Your Weight and Your Health
  • Blood Sugar Awareness Tool Kit
  • Health Topics A-Z, "Metabolic Syndrome"

The first 500 people to register through the Metabolic Syndrome Health Center will be eligible to receive a free tape measure from the NWHRC. The 64-inch tape measure is perfect for determining your waist-to-hip ratio. Its unique push-button retraction and locking feature guarantees a snug measurement with superior accuracy and repeatability.

In addition to the education materials, the National Women's Health Resource Center is encouraging women to Take 10 to T.A.L.K. to their health care professional about metabolic syndrome and weight-related health issues:

T — Tell your health care professional if diabetes runs in your family.
A — Ask why excessive abdominal fat is a health risk.
L — Learn ways to improve your family's eating and exercise habits.
K — Keep up regular health screenings.

For more information on metabolic syndrome or to order a copy of the National Women's Health Report on women and obesity, visit or call 877-986-9472.

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