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Belly Fat: It's Even Bad for Skinny People!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This is an article I read that I wanted to share with my Spark friends-this reinforces why it is so important for us to lose the weight and why we need to keep it off!

It’s well-known that for overweight people, being "apple-shaped" -- with the extra fat mostly around their middle -- is particularly dangerous for their health, especially heart health. But if your weight is in the normal range, you don’t have to worry about that little muffin top or beer belly, right?

Wrong. A new analysis from the Mayo Clinic published in the May 10, 2011 Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at how belly, or "visceral," fat impacts cardiac disease patients. It gathered data from six studies totaling nearly 16,000 heart patients, 40% of whom were of normal weight. These patients (all of whom had either had a heart attack or a procedure to open blocked arteries) were followed for just over two years after their attacks or treatment. The studies revealed that among the normal-weight folks, their belly fat was associated with early and unexpected death -- an astonishing one in five deaths. Remember, these people were not overweight -- they just had a little extra around the middle! Matters were even worse for the obese group, where belly fat caused one in three deaths... but that’s not very surprising given how dangerous we all know obesity to be. Right now, I’m more concerned about the many of us who keep our overall weight in check and therefore tend not to worry about the fat that we do have.

A Different Kind of "Bad Fat"

To discuss the most recent findings about abdominal fat, I called Robert Kushner, MD, clinical director at the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Most of us don’t think of fat around the middle as anything more than unsightly "spare tires," but Dr. Kushner describes it as "angry fat that is biologically active." What he means is that this fat, unlike the thinner layer of fat that lies just beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat), produces chemicals that lead to insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes. Diabetes, as we know too well, is a disease that puts people at high risk for cardiac disease and inflammation -- making it harder for blood vessels to dilate and easier for blood to clot, all of which increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes.

While the Mayo Clinic’s meta-analysis involved only people who already had cardiac disease, Dr. Kushner wanted to remind Daily Health News readers that belly fat is dangerous for people with good health histories as well. In fact, several years ago, data from the long-range Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked 44,000 women for 16 years, showed that women with greater waist circumferences were more likely to die early of cancer or heart attack than women with smaller waists -- and the Nurses’ Health Study data baseline was healthy women.

Should You Whittle Your Waistline?

You may already know that your weight is in the officially healthy range if your body mass index (BMI) is under 25 (to calculate your BMI, go to http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bm
i/). But to have a more accurate picture of your health, you need to know just how big your belly is, so go ahead and get out that tape measure. Do not worry about gauging your hip-to-waist ratio, a measurement that was widely used in the past as a measure of abdominal fat, says Dr. Kushner. Research now shows that waist circumference alone is a good indicator of the presence of that deep "angry fat." However, it is crucial that both men and women take this measurement at a very specific part of the body. Place the tape measure just above the top of the hip bones. Reason: Hip bone position never changes, and it is easy to find even for people who are overweight. For men, you are at risk if your waist circumference is 40 inches or more... for women, 35 inches or more puts you into the danger zone.

Use Your Head -- for Your Heart

For your health, it is crucial to lose belly fat if your waist measurement exceeds the above guidelines. Despite the promises you see on many magazine covers for both women and men -- you know, "Bust That Belly Fat with One Simple Move!" -- there is no way to spot reduce, says Dr. Kushner. The only way to get that fat to budge is to reduce your calorie intake via a healthy weight-loss program, such as the Mediterranean Diet. For more on this fruit, veggie and whole-grain-heavy diet that most people find both delicious and filling, check out our Bottom Line Secrets article at www.BottomLineSecrets.com/Extr
a. Exercise is a must as well, with aerobic exercise particularly good for both shedding pounds and boosting cardiovascular health.

Once you have lost some weight and reduced your waistline to a healthy number of inches, you’ll need to be vigilant to keep that belly fat from doing what it does best -- creeping back onto your body.


Robert F. Kushner, MD, clinical director, Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity (NCCO) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.
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