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Sep 03, 2014

Belly Fat Increases Risk for High Blood Pressure

Where people carry extra weight can impact their risk for high blood pressure, finds new study.

It’s not just whether you’re overweight but how you carry that extra weight that impacts risk for high blood pressure, according to a new study.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study analyzed the relationship between body fat and risk for high blood pressure. Although it’s clear that overweight and obesity increases risk for high blood pressure, experts wondered if the type of body fat impacts hypertension risk differently.

Through the Dallas Heart Study, researchers performed imaging tests on a diverse group of adults to assess two types of belly fat—subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that lies directly under the skin, while visceral fat lies deep within the abdomen surrounding the body’s organs. Research suggests that deep belly fat is more harmful than superficial fat, linking visceral fat to serious health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

A total of 903 individuals participated in the study and were followed for roughly seven years to see which developed high blood pressure during the study period. During the seven years, researchers found that one-fourth of participants developed high blood pressure and, not surprisingly, overweight and obesity increased risk for hypertension by 24%. However, researchers also found that deep belly fat increased risk for high blood pressure by 22% compared to those without visceral belly fat. The more superficial type of belly fat, however, was not associated with increased risk of high blood pressure.

Study findings confirm what other evidence suggests—that not all belly fat is created equal. The deep fat surrounding our organs is far more dangerous than the fat lying just beneath the skin, and may increase risk for high blood pressure, among other health conditions. And the more belly fat you have, the more likely you are to have visceral fat lying deep beneath the skin’s surface.

The good news is that all types of belly fat, including visceral fat, disappears with weight loss. Through healthy lifestyle choices like maintaining a healthy diet and getting active, belly fat can be reduced, improving cardiovascular health.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • What is hypertension?
  • Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it often causes no symptoms and if left uncontrolled, increases risk for heart attack and stroke.

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