Understanding Belly Fat
Excess body fat can increase your risk of heart disease even if you are not obese. As it turns out, where fat settles on your body—is your figure like an apple, pear or hourglass?—affects your health risks.
Many studies have shown that people who store excess fat around their midsection are at much greater risk for a number of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, sudden cardiac death, certain cancers and even dementia.
The Skinny on Belly Fat
- Having a large waist circumference can be worse for your health than overall obesity.
- Excess belly fat can come from eating habits and lifestyle factors, your genes, or certain medical conditions.
- Trimming your midsection can help you feel better and live longer.
One recent study found people who were apple shaped were two times more likely to die and had nearly a three-fold risk of heart disease compared with people with other body types, despite being in a healthy weight range overall. In another study, people with a normal weight but too much belly fat were found to face a higher risk of dying from heart disease than people who were considered obese.
What Makes Belly Fat Different?
There are two main types of belly fat:
- Subcutaneous fat is found just beneath the skin. It’s the fat you can see and pinch—think of those pesky love handles.
- Visceral fat accumulates deep inside your body. It sticks to and surrounds key organs, including the heart, intestine, kidneys, pancreas and liver.
Visceral fat is more harmful to your health. It is sometimes described as “active” fat because it releases hormones and other substances that can promote inflammation in your tissues. Inflammation is harmful to the body and can damage your heart’s arteries.
Visceral fat also interferes with insulin, a hormone that is critical in helping your body’s cells use sugar, or glucose, for energy. Visceral fat can even disrupt other substances in your body that help to regulate mood, appetite, weight and even thoughts and brain activity.
Last reviewed: March 2019
Published: December 2017
Medical Reviewers: Asma Aouthmany, MD; Eldad Einav, MD, FACC; Yasmine Subhi Ali, MD, FACC