| Waist Management
How an apple-shaped figure harms your health
This summer, if you’re wearing a one-piece with industrial-strength tummy control to tame a jiggle, you may want to take note of the newest findings about belly fat. Once upon a time, that weight around your middle was considered inert, just an inactive surplus fat that—other than making bikinis a fashion no-no—didn’t pose much of a threat. But now, more studies reveal how belly fat can have a negative impact on your overall health.
Over the past decade, research has mounted: belly, or visceral, fat unleashes a toxic cocktail of chemicals and is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat—subcutaneous being the type of fat that makes up about 80–90 percent of our body’s flab (including the handful you may be able to grab under the upper part of your arm). Visceral fat, on the other hand, is located at deeper levels. For women who are apple-shaped—those who have a tendency to store excess body fat around the middle—this is especially alarming.
A surplus of deeper fat in the abdomen affects major organs, increasing risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. The host of hormones released by visceral fat is the villain here; they inflame organs and cause thrombosis. To figure out if your excess padding is enough to be worried about, it’s the amount of belly fat and increase in waist circumference you have to consider. Never mind BMI (body mass index)—it’s old news. Waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) measurements provide a more accurate snapshot of where the fat is. Health Canada says that a WHR (calculated by dividing waist measurement by hip measurement) of more than 0.8 puts a woman at higher risk for disease.
But what causes this surplus of visceral fat to accumulate in the first place? Don’t blame white bread and other specific foods, as reported in the media. According to Dr. Arya Sharma, scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network and professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, there isn’t any hard-core scientific research to back up those claims. One culprit that has been identified is an imbalance of two hormones that play a part in appetite regulation: in obese people, the amount of leptin and adiponectin are low, which leads to overeating and excess calories being stored as fat. Genes can also be a key factor when it comes to where your body fat accumulates.
Thankfully, there is good news when it comes to getting rid of belly fat, says Robert Ross, professor of kinesiology and health studies and exercise physiologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Visceral fat responds well to exercise. And in combination with a change in eating habits, trimming your middle is easier than, say, becoming a marathoner. Aerobic activity (an accumulated 30–60 minutes on most days) and weight-resistance exercises are effective. And here’s some nice math to consider: if you reduce your waist circumference by 5–10 percent, in general you’ll see a 25–35 percent reduction in visceral fat. In the future, the battle of the bulge for the severely obese may also enlist Rimonabant, a new prescription drug available in Europe (but not North America), which works on the central nervous system to curb the desire to eat.
Whichever tactic you adopt to trim belly fat, it can reap you big rewards: better health, of course, and a shopping trip for a new teeny bikini.