Excess weight in the abdominal region among middle aged men and women could be a predictor of early deaths, says a new study conducted by researchers in the United States.

Health problems resulting from a large waist circumference have been studied on earlier occasions as well, with some of the earlier ones revealing that greater presence of fatty tissue around organs in the abdominal region could be a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

But, in a first-ever effort to establish the link between waist circumference and a generally higher risk for death, researchers from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta analyzed data related to about 48,500 men and 56,000 women who had participated in a large national cancer study.

The patients averaging between 67 and 69 years of age were asked to complete a questionnaire. Between 1992 and 1993, all had completed health questionnaires concerning their medical histories. Details regarding their weight and waist size statistics were collected in 1997.

When the researchers tracked deaths among the participants they found about 9,300 men and 5,300 women had died till the end of 2006.

They observed that men who had a waist size of 47 inches or more were having about a two-fold higher risk for death compared to men with the lowest waist size. The risk was same among women with a waist size of 42 inches or more.

The higher risk was directly associated with greater waist size regardless of whether or not men and women were of normal overall weight, overweight or obese. However, women of normal weight who nonetheless carried excess weight in their waist area appeared to be most vulnerable to the large waist-death risk association.

"A larger waist size was found to be linked to a higher risk for dying from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer at every measure of body mass index," says study author Eric J. Jacobs, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

"Even if your weight is considered normal for your height, keeping your waist size is important for your health," Jacobs said. "So if you notice your waist size increasing over time, it's time to start eating better and exercising more."

The sheer size of this group meant that the current study is one of the largest efforts ever launched to examine any linkage between waist size and mortality, the researchers noted in their report published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The authors, however, maintained that they were yet to figure out why the risk is higher with women having larger waist size. They hoped the findings could lead to a shift in national guidelines for all men and women with respect to cautionary recommendations that currently highlight health risks linked with being overweight or obese overall, rather than risks specifically linked to abdominal obesity.