Fat around the waist is an early warning sign of hypertension, a new study has found.

According to a study by researchers at thw University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and colleagues, people with fat around their abdominal areas are at a greater risk of developing hypertension than people who have fat elsewhere in the body.

The study was based on data from 903 patients who were part of the Dallas Heart Study. Participants were followed for about seven years on an average. High blood pressure was classified as systolic blood pressure (top number) of greater or equal to 140, diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure of greater than or equal to 90. Participants also had their fat levels assessed.

Belly fat is linked with increased risk of fractures and kidney diseases. Previous research has suggested that body shape rather than body mass could be a better indicator of early death risk in overweight or obese people.

"Generally speaking, visceral fat stores correlate with the 'apple shape' as opposed to the 'pear shape,' so having centrally located fat when you look in the mirror tends to correlate with higher levels of fat inside the abdomen," said Aslan T. Turer, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and lead author of the study.

In the study group, 25 percent of patients developed hypertension. The researchers found that people with higher BMI were more likely to develop high blood pressure. They also found that abdominal fat was independently associated with hypertension.

Fat behind the abdominal cavity or retroperitoneal fat was most strongly linked to hypertension, the researchers found.

"The high incidence of hypertension and presence of retroperiotoneal fat could suggest that the effects from fat around the kidneys are influencing the development of hypertension," Turer said in a news release. "This link could open new avenues for the prevention and management of hypertension. The finding of the fat around the kidney is a novel one and we do not know specifically what the 'in the mirror' correlates are."

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.