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The Big Danger of a Big Belly: How Abdominal Obesity Affects Women’s Health

By Fitoru | 24 July 2018
woman crying in arms getting counseled by older man

When was the last time you measured your waist? If the distance around your middle measures 35 inches or more, you might be carrying a dangerous amount of abdominal fat, according to a recent New York Times report. The risk is particularly severe among post-menopausal women, who tend to experience a redistribution of body fat that affects the midsection. Not only does excess belly fat increase people’s risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, but research also suggests this condition can result in certain cancers, asthma, and even dementia.

What the Science Says

The discovery that carrying excess belly fat can pose a greater health risk than carrying fat in other areas is not a new one. However, recent research suggests that you don’t have to be overweight or obese to be at risk. On the contrary, simply having a waist that measures 35 inches (40 inches for men) could be enough to endanger your life.

One of the reasons that abdominal fat is so dangerous is that it’s composed of a different kind of fat than what’s found in other parts of the body. While the hips, arms, and thighs tend to accumulate subcutaneous fat, the belly collects visceral fat, which secretes dangerous chemicals. Located deep inside the belly, this metabolically active fat has been linked with a wide range of diseases. Not only can visceral fat raise bad cholesterol levels (LDLs), but it is also associated with high blood pressure and reduced insulin sensitivity, among other health hazards.

The link between belly fat and heart disease has been well established. However, past research suggested that the culprit was BMI (body mass index) rather than waist size. According to England’s Million Women Study, though, women with larger waistlines had double the risk of developing heart disease as those with normally sized waists. Moreover, the risk grew 10% with every additional 2 inches.

And unfortunately, the risk of heart disease is only the beginning. An increasing amount of research suggests that abdominal obesity affects a woman’s risk of suffering from certain cancers. For example, a study published in the European Journal of Cancer revealed a connection between larger waistlines and breast cancer risk in women of South Asian descent. Moreover, a study in the peer-reviewed open access journal PLOS One found a positive correlation between visceral fat and CRC (colorectal cancers).

Of course, overall cancer deaths are down in the United States, thanks to new methods of detection and treatment. However, as Americans are living longer, dementia is becoming a reality for many families. According to a Kaiser Permanente study, belly fat results in a shocking threefold increased dementia risk.

Assessing Belly Fat

Wondering if you’re at risk for some of the health hazards associated with visceral fat? The easiest way to find out is to measure your waist size with a basic tape measure. Start by bending slightly at the waist and then measure the place where your abdomen naturally indents. Your waist should be about two inches above the spot where your hips start.

Additionally, you can assess your overall body shape and size. While pear-shaped people tend to store subcutaneous fat in their lower extremities (hips and thighs), apple-shaped individuals are more likely to store dangerous visceral fat.

Is a Ketogenic Diet the Solution?

The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and battle abdominal bulging. If your waistline measures 35 inches or more, you might want to consider making lifestyle changes to improve your health.

Start by finding ways to incorporate exercise into your daily schedule. Because regular aerobic exercise is the best way to beat visceral fat, consider adding 30 minutes of running, biking, or swimming to your routine. These activities increase your heart rate and prompt your body to start burning visceral fat.

While embracing an active lifestyle is essential, individuals looking to lose belly fat will likely also need to make changes to their diets. According to an article in Shape, research shows that consuming more soluble fibers can help reduce belly fat accumulation. Additionally, dieters may want to consider embracing a ketogenic diet.

A popular eating trend, keto is designed to help the body achieve its maximum fat-burning potential. For most individuals, glucose is a primary source of energy. By consuming fats and proteins and avoiding carbs, keto practitioners can achieve a condition called ketosis, in which they start burning stored fat instead of sugar. The end result is a reduction in both weight and dangerous visceral fat.

Getting Started with Keto

Ready to start shrinking your waistline? Focus on meats, fish, nuts, and leafy greens. Avoid grains, fruit, tubers, and sugar.

Not all individuals are good candidates for a ketogenic diet. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to find out if keto is right for you.


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