A report from the BBC indicates a significant correlation between abdominal fat and the risk of early death.
Carrying extra fat around your middle dramatically increases your risk of early death, even if your overall weight is normal, say researchers.
A study of almost 360,000 people from nine European countries found waist size a "powerful indicator" of risk.
Each extra 2ins (5cm) raised the chance of early death by between 13% and 17%.
The New England Journal of Medicine study stressed GPs should regulraly measure patients' waists as a cheap and easy way to assess health.
The link between waist fat and health problems has been established for some time, but the sheer size of the study gives scientists a far more accurate picture.
The researchers, including some from Imperial College London, followed the volunteers, who were an average of 51 years old at the start of the study, for the next 10 years, during which time 14,723 of them died.
The standard measure of obesity, body mass index (BMI) remained a reasonable predictor of health problems, with those with a high reading more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer.
However, the 'hip/waist ratio', a number produced by dividing the waist size by the hip measurement, and just the waist measurement on its own, were both good ways of sorting out those at highest risk.
Some people who had a completely normal BMI score, but a larger than average waist, were at significantly higher risk of early death.
At the extremes, men with waists exceeding 47ins (119cm) had a doubled rate of death compared with those with waists under 31.5ins (80cm), and a similar statistic was found when women with waists over 39ins (99cm) were compared to those under 25.5ins (64.7cm).
An increase in risk of death could be plotted every time the belt was let out by another two inches - for two people with the same BMI, every additional 2ins (5cm) on their waistband added up to a 17% increase in risk for men, and 13% for women.
Professor Elio Riboli, from Imperial College London, said: "We were surprised to see the waist size having such a powerful effect on people's health and premature death.
"There aren't many simple individual characteristics that can increase a person's risk of premature death to this extent, independently from smoking and drinking."
He added: "The good news is that you don't need to take an expensive test and wait ages for the result to assess this aspect of your health - it costs virtually nothing to measure your hip and waist size."
I guess this means I'll have to work harder on my diet! Problem is, as a result of injuries sustained almost six years ago, I can't do much in the way of exercise. After the accident, my weight went up (two and a half years of being largely bed- or chair-bound will do that to you), and lack of much exercise since then has meant it's stayed up. However, the Grim Reaper isn't likely to give me a break on those grounds . . . so I'd better find another way of slimming down.