Belly fat is an accumulation of excessive fat around the stomach and abdomen up to the extent that it is likely to have a negative impact on health. Abdominal obesity is not confined only to the elderly and obese subjects. On the other hand, one can be thin and still have abdominal fat if one is not fit.
Basically, abdominal fat is of two types:
Subcutaneous fat – Subcutaneous fat is the fat just under the skin. If one is wondering why one cannot see six-pack abs, it is probably because subcutaneous fat is covering them.
Visceral fat – Visceral fat is sometimes also called intra-abdominal fat. This is because visceral fat is found between our organs in the midsection.
Both types of belly fat have a negative impact on individual health.
Abdominal obesity results in an “apple-shaped” body type, which is more common among men. Women typically accumulate fat around the hips and thighs to develop a “pear-shaped” body type. They can certainly develop “apple-shaped” body types as well.
Evaluation of belly fat –
The two most common ways to measure abdominal obesity are waist circumference and waist size compared to hip size, also known as the waist-to-hip ratio. The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is calculated by dividing the waist circumference by the hip circumference.
In males, WHR less than 0.90 – 0.95 is considered average but less than 0.85 is considered excellent. A waist measurement of more than 102 cm. (40 in.) is considered unacceptable in men.
In females, WHR less than 0.80 – 0.85 is considered average but less than 0.75 is considered excellent. A waist measurement of more than 88 cm. (35 in.) is considered unacceptable in women.
The most accurate method is to use computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the amount of abdominal fat. But they’re expensive and require sophisticated equipment.
Ill-effects of belly fat on health –
Abdominal obesity has a number of ill effects on our health as mentioned below:
Chronic inflammation – The researchers have confirmed that fat cells inside the abdomen are secreting molecules that increase inflammation. Abdominal fat secrets high levels of an important inflammatory molecule called interleukin-6 (IL-6) into the blood. Increased IL-6 levels in the blood correlate with concentrations of an inflammatory substance called C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body. High CRP levels are related to inflammation, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to a host of diseases.
Pre-diabetes – Carrying a high amount of abdominal fat is known to be associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to glucose intolerance. The condition is called pre-diabetes, which can lead to type-2 diabetes.
Heart disease – Many studies have shown that people who carry excess abdominal fat around their midsection — a so-called “spare tire” — tend to face higher risks of heart disease compared to people who have fat elsewhere.
Cancer – Obese people often have chronic low-level inflammation, which can, over time, cause DNA damage that leads to cancer. Belly fat releases proteins that fuel the growth of malignant (cancerous) cells. The research gives a new insight that excess visceral fat may promote cancerous change by releasing a protein called fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF2), thus uncovering links between belly fat and cancers of the colon, esophagus, and pancreas.
Cholesterol irregularities – Blood lipid irregularities associated with abdominal obesity include high levels of triglycerides and reduced levels of HDL cholesterol, which causes an increase in the triglyceride to HDL cholesterol ratio.
Alzheimer’s disease – There is evidence to suggest that abdominal obesity has a strong link with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia because it has a strong correlation with many metabolic conditions.
A low backache – The core of the body is the center of gravity, which will shift due to excess abdominal weight. The shift will pull the body forward in an unnatural posture, potentially straining the lower back.
The bottom line –
It is a well-known fact that excess body fat has serious consequences for health. Despite the excess body weight, the issue is not how much one weighs, but how much abdominal fat one has.
Dr. Pran Rangan is a physician with an expertise in writing articles on health related topics. My areas of special interest are cardiology, diabetes and exercise and fitness. I also write articles on spirituality.