Research by Oxford University showed that every extra inch on your tummy raises the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 per cent.
A study of 430,000 people aged 40 to 70 showed waist circumference is the bigger factor for heart health events over other obesity measures such as body mass index (BMI).
Lead researcher Dr Ayodipupo Oguntade said: “The amount of fat people carry around their trunk is more important in tracking body fatness and cardiovascular risk.”
While most Britons are overweight, heart and circulatory diseases also cause a quarter of all deaths, claiming almost 500 lives a day.
The research, being presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona, showed those with the biggest waistlines were 3.21 times more likely to suffer heart failure.
By comparison, those in the highest risk group for BMI had a 2.65-times greater heart failure risk than those in the lowest.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Ideally you should have a piece of tape measuring half your height. If it fits snugly around your doesn t bare waist you’re in a ‘healthy’ weight range. If it doesn’t, seriously consider cutting down on the sugary snacks.”
The Oxford study also showed every extra unit of BMI increased the chances of heart failure by nine per cent.
Heart failure is a long-term condition when the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly.
James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “A larger waist measurement is often a sign that you have too much visceral fat, which sits around our internal organs and impairs the way our heart and blood vessels function.
“Heart failure is a chronic and incurable condition that worsens over time, so these findings underline the importance of managing your weight now.
“People who carry more weight around their middle have an increased risk of higher cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.”
The two types of hospital heart failure event most linked to being overweight or obese were diagnoses of hypertension or irregular heart beat. Participants had an average age of 56 and over 13 years there were 8,669 first-ever heart failure events.
Many of these events resulted in death. The absolute risk of heart failure in the study population was two per cent.
Dr Oguntade said his team’s analysis disproves the so-called “obesity paradox” theory that suggested that for some people, normal to low BMI may be detrimental.