What Type of Body Fat Is Most Dangerous?

Obesity is a major health crisis. More than one third of adults and almost 1 in 5 children are obese.

Abdominal Fat

Abdominal, or visceral, fat resides deep within your abdominal cavity, filling the spaces between organs. It is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, which lies just below your skin.

A study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress confirmed visceral fat is associated with numerous health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and some types of cancer.

The distribution of fat is even more important than your weight. The study found that normal weight individuals who have big bellies died from cardiovascular deaths at a rate of almost three times higher than those with normal body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios.

Fat, especially abdominal fat, disrupts the normal balance and functioning of hormones. It pumps out cytokines (chemicals the immune system produces), increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, abdominal fat is located near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Substances released by visceral fat enter the vein, travel to the liver, and influence the production of blood lipids (fats), which effect cholesterol and insulin resistance, increasing the risk for diabetes.

Men are at greater risk for accumulating visceral fat. However, we all lose muscle as we age. This slows the rate at which we burn calories and shed excess fat.

How Much Is Too Much?

The simplest way to estimate your body fat is to measure your waist size. Measure the smallest circumference, just above your belly button and below your rib cage. Men's waist size should be less than 37 inches; women should be less than 31.5 inches. Waist sizes larger than 40 (men) or 34.6 (women) are considered obese.

You can also measure your waist-to-hip ratio. Divide your waist size by your hip size (measure the widest part of your hips). Ratios greater than .90 for men and .85 for women are too high. Or, ask a health practitioner or fitness professional to measure your percent body fat. It should be less than 31 percent for women and 24 for men.

Reducing Fat

According to the Centers for Disease Control, even losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight will help lower your risk of developing obesity-related disease. Visceral fat responds well to exercise and diet. Shoot for 30 to 60 minutes per day of physical activity, watch portion sizes, and consume complex carbohydrates and lean protein.




Mayo Clinic. "Belly Fat in Men: Why Weight Loss Matters." Web. 5 February 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/belly-fat/MC00054

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk." Web. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/risk.htm

Irving, Brian A., Davis, Christopher K., Brock, David W., Weltman, Judy Y., Swift, Damon, Barrett, Eugene J., Gaesser, Glenn A., and Weltman, Arthur. "Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 40(11) (2008): 1863-1872. Medscape Medical News. Web. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/584083_1

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It." Web. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it.shtml

Mercola, Joseph, MD. "Confirmed: Belly Fat is Far More Dangerous than Having a Total BMI in Obese Range." Web. 26 October 2012. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/10/26/belly-fat-health-dangers.aspx