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The Health Risks of Belly Fat

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Belly fat is made up of two types of body fat – subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the kind everyone knows about, the type under the skin. When you pinch a roll of fat – that’s subcutaneous belly fat.

The second type of fat, visceral fat, is less well known and only of late better understood by scientists. You can’t pinch this deep stomach fat, as it is hidden deep within the abdomen and lies out of reach.

Until only recently scientists believed that fat was simply a place to store excess energy (calories). They didn’t think fat actually did anything. Now we understand that fat is biologically active – especially the deep belly fat.

Deep belly fat is akin to a gland that produces hormones and other substances which can strongly affect our health. Excess body fat, particularly deep belly fat, disturbs the normal balance and functioning of these hormones with dire consequences.

Belly fat & Health

Excess abdominal fat is also known as central obesity. Central obesity is not the same as normal obesity; you could have a normal body mass index, but suffer with central obesity (use this calculator to find out if you have abdominal obesity and excess visceral fat).1

Excessive abdominal belly fat is associated with an increased risk – or forms a part – of a whole host of medical disorders, including:2345

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High triglycerides
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the “good” type of cholesterol
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Alzheimer’s Disease (irrespective of overall body weight)
Types of Belly Fat in People Carrying Low, Medium & High Levels of Belly Fat

Hidden Belly Fat

Sometimes it’s easy to know if you have a lot of belly fat by just looking. However, you might think that if you have a healthy BMI that you are safe and this doesn’t apply to you (if you don’t know you BMI use this BMI calculator.)

However, excessive abdominal fat and general obesity are distinct entities. People who are obese are more likely to have too much belly fat. However,, the opposite doesn’t hold true. Just because you are of “healthy” weight, doesn’t mean you don’t have unhealthy levels of body fat – or belly fat.

BMI is based on weight and height, but it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. In other words, a muscular athlete could have little fat, but a high BMI due to the large amount of muscle mass. On the other hand, you may have little muscle, but a lot of fat. BMI deems your weight healthy, but in truth you may have unhealthy levels of body fat.

Furthermore, you may have little of the superficial (subcutaneous) fat, but a lot of deep belly fat. Deep stomach fat lies hidden in the abdomen and you may not have a visible tummy. Looking lean and being lean are not the same.

Research shows that you could be healthy weight or even underweight, but still suffer with unhealthy levels of abdominal fat. One study found that almost half its participants with a normal BMI score had excessive amounts of belly fat around the vital organs and fat streaked through their muscle.

The moral of the story is this, no matter what weight you are, unless you are active and consuming a relatively healthy diet, your body may be hiding unhealthy levels of belly fat.

That was the bad news. The good news is this, exercise and diet help you lose deep abdominal fat pretty easily. Losing belly fat helps reverse the above health risks and also decreases blood pressure and improves cholesterol levels. The superficial belly fat is more difficult to shift if you are healthy weight, but it isn’t something that a solid exercise and diet strategy can’t help solve.

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