For decades if not centuries, medical experts have warned that a big belly is more harmful to your heart than extra padding in your hips and thighs. A growing number of people around the world now sport this unhealthy "apple-shaped" profile, according to the latest statistics from the CDC.
The average waist circumference for men is now 40.2 inches, up from the 39 inches recorded in the last survey, which was done in 1999–2000. Women's waist measurements also rose — from an average of 36.3 to 38.6 inches. That means that most people now have belly sizes that put them at high risk (see "Gut check: How to measure your midsection").
"As your waistline expands, so does your risk of cardiovascular disease, Belly fat — what doctors refer to as visceral fat — turns out to be very different from fat that accumulates in the hips and thighs. But even though some people are predisposed to larger midsections, there's a lot you can do to remedy the problem.
Visceral fat accumulates deep within the abdominal cavity, padding the space between the organs. When these fat cells break down, they shower the portal vein (the vein that carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver) with free fatty acids and other substances. The resulting state of "lipotoxicity" affects the nearby pancreas, hampering its ability to produce insulin, the hormone that carries glucose into the body's cells. Lipotoxicity also promotes insulin resistance, in which the body's muscle and liver cells don't respond adequately to normal levels of insulin. As a result, blood sugar levels rise, boosting the risk for type 2 diabetes.
In addition, when these misplaced fat cells die, cells that serve as the clean-up crew release inflammatory substances called cytokines. "Those cytokines are one reason people develop atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease”.
In contrast, fat that collects in the hips and thighs seems to be less harmful. People with this "pear-shaped" profile of fat distribution are less prone to diabetes and heart disease than people with bigger bellies.
Who is vulnerable?
Your genes, ethnic background, and sex all influence how likely you are to accumulate visceral fat. The problem is less common among people in Mediterranean countries, where cardiovascular disease is also less prevalent. But Native Americans, Pima Indians, Hispanics, and people living in India and South Asia have a higher likelihood of abdominal obesity (as well as type 2 diabetes). Finally, white men and black women tend to accumulate relatively more visceral fat compared with black men and white women.
While there's no magic formula for losing belly fat, a reduced-carbohydrate diet can be helpful, particularly if you have type 2 diabetes. You don't need to avoid all carbs — just stay away from those that quickly spike your blood sugar levels and encourage your body to store fat. These three sources are the major culprits:
This blog is updated by Tranquillity 360 fitness personal trainers, as well as other guest bloggers.