The Health Risks Associated with Belly Fat
When the average person considers belly fat, the focus is normally placed on the aesthetic impact that belly fat can have on a person; however, there is something significantly more sinister lurking underneath the issue of belly fat. The truth is that more people are struggling with health issues associated with being overweight today than at any point in the history of the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of the nation’s population is classified as being obese, meaning that they have a body mass index of 30 or higher. To exacerbate this epidemic, children 17 and under have an obesity rate of more than 17 percent, more than triple the number in the 1960s.
Understanding the Difference in Types of Body Fat
While people should effectively monitor and manage all types of body fat, it is essential for everyone to understand that all body fat is not equal in the manner in which impacts the body. There is subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that is located directly beneath the skin. This is the type that can be easily pinched. The next type of fat is visceral fat, which is also known as belly fat. It is referred to as a visceral fat due to the fact that it accumulates within the orifices and cavities in the viscera — including visceral organs such as the stomach and intestines.
What makes visceral fat more pernicious is the fact that this type of fat produces toxins within the body that have the capacity to negatively impact normal body functions. Among the toxic chemicals that are produced by visceral fat are chemicals called cytokines, which have been directly linked to heart disease and the development of insulin resistance, which can be a precursor to diabetes if not properly engaged.
Cytokines can also cause inflammation, which has been proven to contribute to the development of certain types of cancers. According to Eric Jacobs, Ph.D., a researcher for the American Cancer Society, scientists have uncovered a number of direct links between belly fat and cancers of the esophagus, pancreas and colon.
The Hidden Risks
A unique problem associated with belly fat is that the dangers and risks that are directly connected to the existence of belly fat are not confined to the extra layer of fat that is located just below the skin — the subcutaneous fat — but it is the fat that is submersed beneath the surface, hidden within the orifices of the body that presents the greatest threat. What this means is that before fat is even visible, visceral fat could already be at work attacking the body. This should be somewhat alarming to a significant amount of Americans, simply due to the fact that before they ever noticed the visible sign of belly fat, it may have already caused significant damage.
In addition to certain risks that have been mentioned up to this point, the presence of visceral fat in large amounts can increase the risk of:
- Sleep apnea
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Colorectal cancer
Other illnesses, diseases and conditions that can be linked to obesity and/or belly fat include:
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Other forms of cancer, including liver, gallbladder and kidney
Assessing Risk Factors
According to health care experts, there is a simple way to assess the risk of being negatively impacted by belly fat. Using a measuring tape to measure the circumference of the waist — the higher the number the greater the risk. According to some industry experts, there should be a concern for any measurement that exceeds 35 inches or more as far as women are concerned, and a measurement of 40 inches or more should send up a red flag. Personally, my calculations are slightly more stringent, advising my clients that any measurement over 32 inches for women and 37 inches for men. I choose to count what is considered the gray area as a risk area.
The Impact of Age and Genetics
The primary factor that determines weight gain and the rate in which the body stores fat is the ability to balance energy consumption, which is the rate at which the body burns calories for energy, with caloric intake, the amount of calories consumed in a certain period of time. Caloric intake is normally measured in daily increments. Any time that a person is consuming more calories than they burn in a day, they will begin to accumulate fat; this is the way that the body stores unused calories.
While caloric intake plays a major role in a person managing their weight, age also plays a factor. The older a person gets, the slower their metabolism will become, creating the necessity to increase their activity rate. The sedentary lifestyles that are becoming all too common have lowered the age at which people will generally become concerned about weight gain. In addition to age, genetics also play a role in the proclivity to gain weight and the manner in which the fat will be stored on the body.
Reducing Belly Fat
The most effective modality for reducing belly fat is the implementation of the combination of a highly specific nutritional diet, moderate to intense exercise, and some form of stress management.
It is not only important to manage the amount of calories that is taken in during the course of the day, but it is equally important to monitor the type of calories that are being consumed. People should stay away from empty calories or poorly balanced calories. Empty calories are calories that add to the caloric count, but don’t add any type of nutritional value. Poorly balanced foods would be those that have a high caloric content and a tremendously low nutritional value. The person should focus on consuming a significant amount cruciferous vegetables and power greens. The cruciferous vegetables are not only low in caloric content, but they are high in antioxidants and nutritional value. The antioxidants will help to offset some of the negative impact of visceral fat. It is also important to consume a healthy amount of protein from a number of sources. Protein is essential to protein synthesis, which an essential function in the body’s rebuilding and healing processes.
Exercise not only serves to burn calories, but it also helps to build and strengthen lean muscle mass, which will also contribute a higher metabolism. Exercise also improves cardiovascular health.
The reason that it is important to reduce stress when attempting to lose weight is that stress directly impacts fat burning process in a negative way. Stress causes the release of a chemical hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body manage stress; however, during the occurrence of chronic stress, the presence of cortisol begins to work against the body, impacting the ability of the body to breakdown fat and use it for energy.
Although it can be challenging to get belly fat under control, the benefit of doing so is immeasurable in lengthening life and increasing the quality of life.