Aside from making it difficult to fit into pants, sporting a so-called beer belly or mushy middle may actually kill you! What’s more astonishing, the mortality risk of having belly fat is actually worse than being overweight overall!
In their study
, published in the latest edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed over 15,000 people for the relationship between obesity patterns and total and cardiovascular mortality risk. They defined obesity patterns using Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).
The team reported that people with normal-weight central obesity, i.e. those with belly fat, had the worst long-term survival. Specifically, for two men with normal BMI, the man with belly fat has a higher risk of dying than the man whose weight is distributed across the body. In addition, the increased risk is not sex-specific, so women are just as affected as men.
These results further debunk a commonly held belief that a normal BMI is sufficient to be healthy. BMIs measure body fat factoring in height and weight, but it is not informative about where the fat is located. And if there’s one takeaway from this research, it’s that location matters! It’s not just about how much fat, but where it is in the body. Being skinny elsewhere in the body is not enough to compensate for the dangers of belly fat. This means that having a normal BMI is not license to indulge and forget the treadmill.
Given that his study showed increased mortality rates compared to people with even body weight distribution, could the risk be lowered if people “evened out” their weight? Absolutely not! Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez
, senior author of the research, was quick to nip this myth in the bud.
"Keep in mind this doesn't give people license to eat anything they want to even out their fat," Lopez-Jimenez said. "I've gotten a few of those notes that say that is what some people plan to do. I hope they are joking."
We all know too much body fat is unhealthy, but what makes belly fat the most dangerous type of fat? Belly fat is also known as visceral fat, as it extends deep inside the body and envelopes vital organs like the heart, stomach, liver, and pancreas. The proximity and abundance of the fat increases the conversion of fat into cholesterol that can leech into the bloodstream and cause plaque buildups in the arteries. This is why belly fat is associated with high risk for coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease. Belly fat also contributes to a multitude of other healthy problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
But before you jump to the next weight-loss pills, consider two things: belly fat is one of the most stubborn fat to trim (courtesy of our hunter and gatherer past), and most weight-loss meds are ineffective long-term
. So, Dr. Lopez-Jimenez recommends an old health adage: a combination of a solid, healthy diet with regular cardio exercise. In addition to diet and exercise, he recommends that reducing your stress levels can help deflate that spare tire.