A study of 220,000 adults has shown that fat concentrated at the waist is no more dangerous to people than general obesity, contradicting previous research.
Past studies have claimed that an apple-shaped person was three times more at risk from heart attacks and stroke than someone shaped differently.
But this research had 'design flaws', according to the authors of the new study, who said their new results should help remove any confusion.
Obesity is measured by a person's body mass index (BMI), a formula calculated from weight and height. But some experts have challenged the usefulness of BMI as an assessment tool, arguing in favour of the tape measure instead.
The new investigation involved examining data from 58 studies which collectively monitored around 220,000 adults for almost a decade. During this period, around 14,000 participants had either a heart attack or stroke.
A consortium of 200 scientists from 17 countries carried out the study, funded by the Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation. The findings appeared in the online version of the Lancet.
The authors, from Cambridge University, wrote: "Whether assessed singly or in combination, BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio do not improve prediction of first-onset cardiovascular disease when additional information exists on blood pressure, history of diabetes and cholesterol measures.
"This finding applies to a wide range of circumstances and clinically relevant subgroups."