Three Worries About Belly Fat

It’s Not About How You Look in a Swim Suit

My three worries about belly fat come from known belly fat health risks. I believe in loving yourself as you are and appreciating your body. I encourage you to let go of concerns about how you look, and expect that plenty of people will see beauty in you.

Belly fat consists not only of fat under your skin, called subcutaneous fat, but also fat stored deep inside the belly, wrapped around your organs. This “visceral fat” produces toxins and hormones that can be toxic, and thus belly fat health risks can even affect thin people who store a high proportion of fat in their abdomen.

Excess fat in the abdominal area may be a stronger predictor of future health problems than being overweight, or even obese. The three belly fat health risks that snag my attention are back problems with discs, brain health, and death.

Belly Fat Health RIsks

Back Problems with Discs

Discs are rubbery pads between your spinal bones. They help distribute loads, absorb shock, and maintain space between our vertebrae as you move. Degeneration or pinching of discs can lead to low back pain–that nagging, miserable discomfort. A study of young people around the age of twenty-one linked men’s waist size and MRI measures of abdominal fat with higher rates of disc degeneration. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0056244 That association was not as strong for young women.

Look into your future–do you want to ache as you sit, stand, travel? Toss and turn, struggling to sleep at night? If you have extra belly fat you can make choices now that may help reduce your risk for back problems with discs.

Brain Health

A large study of older adults in Ireland used waist/hip ratio to assess belly fat and compared it to a marker of weight known as body mass index. Higher waist/hip ratio was a stronger predictor of poor mental function and memory loss with aging than was total obesity. http://Br J Nutr. 2018 Sep;120(5):517-527. doi: 10.1017/S0007114518001848

The researchers suggest that excess abdominal fat increases inflammation within the body. That may speed decline in mental function with age. 

Chronic Disease and Death

A genetic study from Great Britain found higher waist to hip ratio caused a greater risk for diabetes and heart disease. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.21042 Larger waist hip ratio, not obesity, is also associated with a greater risk of death in adults over the age of 75. http://Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:449–60

How to Measure Your Waist Hip Ratio

Measure your waist at the midpoint between your lowest rib and the crest of your hip bone. Measure your hips at the largest place. The World Health Organization says a ratio greater than .9 for men and .85 for women is linked to higher risk of metabolic diseases. In the study of adults over 75, higher death risk was linked to a ratio over .99 for men and .90 for women. In general, it’s desirable for your waist to be smaller than your hips.

calculate waist hip ratio

Summarizing Belly Fat Health Risks

If you carry extra fat around your waist and belly, it may be more dangerous to your health than your overall  tendency toward being overweight or obese. You are at a higher risk for back problems with discs, impaired brain health, or diabetes, heart disease and death. While some causes of extra belly fat are genetic or hormonal, lifestyle choices can help reduce belly fat. I talked about belly fat loss workouts in a video you can find here:  https://deborahrankinrd.com/belly-fat-loss-workouts/

For more actions that support belly fat loss, check out my new guide “Five Things To Start Now To Lose Belly Fat.”


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