Belly fat is a much greater concern for men than for women. The female body tends to store excess fat around the thighs, buttocks, and the backs of the arms, but for guys, the excess fat usually goes straight to the gut. The fat that accumulates around the midsection has been linked to a wide range of health problems: everything from metabolic syndrome to an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
Here are two more to add to your list: type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to a new study out of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, abdominal fat can either be the direct cause of these health problems, or they can be one of the risk factors. The researchers collected data from over 430,000 people from around the UK and U.S., all taken between 2005 and 2011. They analyzed the data to determine whether a greater waist-to-hip ratio (a marker of obesity and excess belly fat) could contribute to higher blood pressure, glucose levels, insulin levels, and blood lipid levels. All of these things play a role in coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
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The analysis of the data proved that a predisposition to a higher waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) did lead to higher levels of glucose, insulin, lipids, and systolic blood pressure. Those with a higher WHR had a greater risk of developing both diabetes and coronary heart disease.
Interestingly enough, the study found that the distribution of body fat is almost as important as the amount. Those with a lot of excess fat around their midsection (abdomen) had a higher chance of developing these health problems than those with a higher BMI overall but not a significantly higher WHR. The fact that men tend to accumulate fat around their midsection is one of the primary reason they are in greater danger of suffering from diabetes and coronary heart disease than women.
Let that be a good lesson for us all. While excess body fat poses plenty of danger, the real threat is the excess fat that accumulates around the belly. For researchers, it points to the need for a therapy or treatment to reduce belly fat specifically rather than dealing with overall adiposity. For individuals, it highlights the importance of controlling body fat and belly fat through exercise, diet, and a healthy lifestyle. If we let the abdominal fat get out of control, we could end up paying for it with our lives.
1. Emdin CA, Khera AV, Natarajan P, Klarin D, Zekavat SM, Hsiao AJ, Kathiresan S., “Genetic Association of Waist-to-Hip Ratio With Cardiometabolic Traits, Type 2 Diabetes, and Coronary Heart Disease.” JAMA. 2017;317(6):626-634. doi:10.1001.