"Love handles" can limit the ability to take a deep breath, a study by French researchers suggests.
The research in 120,000 men and women found a strong link between large waist measurement and decreased lung function.
It was independent of smoking history and a person's overall body mass index, they report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
An expert said the findings reinforced the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The team set out to look if there was an association between lung function and metabolic syndrome - a collection of health problems including high blood pressure and cholesterol which are strongly linked to carrying excess weight around the middle.
| It is widely known that obesity and a lack of exercise is detrimental to your health but this research highlights how being overweight affects your lungs |
Dr Noemi Eiser, British Lung Foundation
Abdominal obesity was defined as having a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches (89 cm) for women and 40 inches (102 cm) for men.
They found a strong association between a large waist measurement and decreased lung function regardless of overall body mass index.
The association remained when they excluded those with existing cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease.
There was also a significant interaction between metabolic syndrome and smoking, with a higher risk of lung function impairment in current and former smokers than in those who never smoked.
Abdominal obesity may affect breathing through restricting the diaphragm or chest wall, the researchers suggested.
| BODY MASS INDEX |
Calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared
Normal: 18.5 - 24.9
Overweight: 25 - 29.9
Obese: Above 30
But there could be other explanations.
Fat tissue may increase inflammatory processes in the body which may in turn lead to respiratory problems.
Study leader, Dr Natalie Leone from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, said: "We found a positive independent relationship between lung function impairment and metabolic syndrome due mainly to abdominal obesity."
She added further studies were now needed to determine the underlying biology of poorer lung function in people with a large waist measurement.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Paul Enright of the University of Arizona said doctors should measure waist circumference when doing respiratory tests so they can take it into account when interpreting the results.
Dr Noemi Eiser, honorary medical director of the British Lung Foundation, said: 'It is widely known that obesity and a lack of exercise is detrimental to your health but this research highlights how being overweight affects your lungs."
"A reduction in lung function was not just recorded for the morbidly obese, but women who had a waist of 35 inches had an 8% reduction in lung capacity.
"This study reinforces the need to lead a healthy lifestyle and how a relatively small accumulation of fat can have a very significant effect on your lung health."