The Health Effects of Abdominal Obesity

By: 
True You
December 27, 2021

As we approach the new year, after a month-long onslaught of holiday feasting, many of us start to think about dieting again. For most people, it feels mostly like a cosmetic concern; maybe you notice that you’ve gotten a little more plump around the midsection when you look in the mirror. The truth is, though, that carrying around a significant amount of abdominal fat is detrimental to overall health and wellbeing. Indeed, there is a strong connection between obesity and having a higher risk for developing a variety of negative healthcare outcomes.  

What is Abdominal Obesity?   

When doctors talk about abdominal obesity or abdominal adiposity, they’re referring to belly fat accumulation that has built up around the stomach and abdomen enough to start having a negative impact on health. Defining obesity itself can be challenging, though, since each person has a different body composition, shape, and size. One tool doctors often use is body mass index (BMI); this figure is derived from a comparison between a person’s height and weight, and it is used to determine whether someone is underweight (BMI under 18.5), normal weight (18.5-24.9), overweight (25-29.9), or obese (30 and above). 

Different Types of Body Fat

The reason abdominal fat is such a concern is related to the two main types of excess body fat distribution throughout the body: visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat is the name for adipose tissue that sits just under the surface of the skin. The presence of subcutaneous fat is not a cause for concern and isn’t connected to common obesity-related conditions; in fact, scientists believe that our ability to accumulate glucose in fat stores is an evolutionary advantage, developed over millennia to store energy and provide insulation in cold climates.  

Visceral fat is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with abdominal fat, and it refers to fat deposits in the abdominal cavity that are tucked in between the organs. Where subcutaneous fat is somewhat solid, visceral fat is able to pack in around the abdominal organs because it is in a semi-fluid state. Having excess visceral fat is also known as central obesity, and it is associated with serious health problems like type 2 diabetes mellitus, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), or metabolic syndrome

The most significant difference between subcutaneous and visceral fat is how they affect other body systems. Subcutaneous fat mostly sits safely under the skin until needed for energy, but visceral fat can cause lipotoxicity, a condition where excess triglycerides in the visceral adipose tissue send harmful free fatty acids into the liver via the bloodstream. These free fatty acids accumulate in the liver and other organs and are now believed to cause organ dysfunction and impair the regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol.           

Determining the Extent of Visceral Obesity   

Most methods of classifying or categorizing levels of body weight or fat content are often imperfect or incomplete. BMI can be misleading for some body types, for instance, and the old “pinch an inch test” is both inaccurate and only considers subcutaneous fat. The most accurate (and sophisticated) way to determine the amount of visceral fat on the body is by using computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to get a precise measure.

Since relying on such scans just for visceral fat measurement isn’t practical in most situations, there is also a simpler method you can do at home that involves your waist-to-hip ratio. Measure your waist at the navel with your abdomen relaxed; then measure your hips at their widest point and divide: waist / hips. This should result in a number between 0 and 1 that is a useful ratio. The closer that ratio is to 1, the higher the risk for coronary heart disease or a variety of other obesity-related conditions. 

Some doctors prefer an even simpler method of evaluating the health risks of obesity: waist circumference. Even though the waist-to-hip ratio is useful, some doctors prefer waist circumference for its simplicity and accuracy. For men, less than 37 inches is considered low risk, 37-40 inches is medium risk, and more than 40 is high risk. For women, 31.5 and below is low risk, 31.5-35 is medium risk, and 35 and above is high risk. 

How to Reduce Visceral Fat

Ultimately, visceral fat is the main concern for anyone struggling with obesity. While subcutaneous body fat may cause legitimate emotional distress, it isn’t a major cause for concern in terms of your overall health. Reducing visceral fat is sometimes easier said than done, however; millions of Americans attempt to lose weight every year, but it remains an elusive goal for most. 

Because of this all-too-common cycle of trying to lose weight, it can be a frustrating process. One of the best ways to take a step in the right direction is by making some modest changes to your diet and physical activity level. Below are some tips and suggestions for how to start your weight loss journey: 

  • Add Veggies: A healthy diet is all about balance rather than withholding. Rather than immediately changing everything, start by incorporating more vegetables into your meals, especially leafy greens, broccoli, beans, etc. 
  • Low Sugar Beverages: Sodas and many fruit juices are packed with added sugars that are high in calories but also have a negative impact on insulin levels. Switching to water, sugar free, or low sugar beverages is an easy way to make a modest but meaningful change.
  • Avoid Processed Foods: Highly processed, packaged foods like snacks and white bread and fast food typically have high sugar content, trans fats, or other unhealthy elements. Stick to whole foods like lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and the like whenever possible. 
  • Move Around: Many Americans have sedentary jobs and lifestyles that don’t lend themselves to a lot of physical activity, but increasing your activity level even a little bit can begin to make a difference. If you aren’t ready for a full exercise regimen, look for ways to add extra walking and moving around into your daily life. 
  • Build Strength: Muscle burns more calories than fat, so you can go a long way toward reducing visceral fat by building muscles through strength training. Strength training done in concert with cardiovascular exercise is the ultimate goal. 
  • Sleep: In recent years, research continues to show a relationship between lack of sleep and weight gain. Getting sufficient sleep (usually 6-8 hours a night, depending on the person) will be an important part of being able to reduce visceral fat and total body fat.  

Weight Loss Alternatives

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows how difficult the process can be. And the truth is that attempting to lose weight through diet and exercise alone doesn’t really work for most people. Even if some weight is lost, it often is regained within a few months, and the cycle repeats again. In addition to the overall risk factors associated with obesity, there is also an emotional toll in repeatedly trying and failing. 

At True You Weight Loss we are passionate about offering alternative solutions that can break the cycle of yo-yo dieting. Nonsurgical weight loss solutions like the Spatz3 gastric balloon are designed to help jumpstart weight loss by limiting the amount of food that can be ingested. If you would like more information about how to finally find the freedom you’ve been looking for, contact us today to request a consultation.

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