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Nov 13, 2014

Belly Fat Increases Risk for Heart Disease

Measuring belly fat is essential to assessing risk for heart disease, finds study.

Measuring belly fat is essential to assessing risk for heart disease, according to a study linking a dangerous kind of abdominal fat to a variety of health problems.

Published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Imaging, this study compared two types of fat found in the abdomen—subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.  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.

Through the MESA (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis) study, researchers followed more than 1,500 individuals to assess the impact of belly fat on a group of risk factors, called metabolic syndrome, that increase risk for heart disease and other health problems. When it comes to metabolic risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, the more risk factors a patient has, the more likely they are to develop heart disease or other conditions like diabetes and stroke.  

At the start of the study, researchers assessed the amount of belly fat each study participant had using CT (computed tomography) scans. Investigators then followed individuals for roughly three years for the development of any metabolic risk factors.

After analysis, researchers found that adults with deep belly fat were significantly more likely to have greater heart risks compared to those with no belly fat, regardless of body mass index. In other words, two individuals with the same height and weight could have different risk for heart disease depending on how much deep belly fat they have. Although subcutaneous fat was also associated with increased cardiovascular risk, deep belly fat was much more strongly associated with increased heart risk.

Based on their findings, authors argue that assessing belly fat is essential to assessing risk for heart disease, regardless of body mass index. The way people carry fat, regardless of their overall weight, could have a significant impact on risk for heart disease. By taking belly fat into account, researchers believe that we can better identify individuals at increased risk for heart disease and take steps to address risk factors in these patients.
Read the full study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Imaging

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is abdominal obesity?
  • Abdominal obesity is defined as having a waist circumference greater than 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman. Although excess fat can have a negative impact on health, carrying extra belly fat is especially harmful, increasing risk for heart diseasediabetes and cancer, among other conditions. The good news is that losing just 3-5% of body weight can help reduce cardiovascular risk and improve overall health.
  • Why is it important to know your BMI and waist circumference?
  • BMI can be helpful in determining if you’re a healthy weight or not, but it’s not 100% accurate. If you have very little or very high amounts of muscle, your BMI will be skewed. Also, research has shown that how we carry weight is more important than our BMI when it comes to risk for heart disease. Belly fat is a known risk factor for heart disease and carrying excess weight around the midsection raises cardiovascular risk, regardless of BMI.

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