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Health Risks of Belly Fat

Health Risks of Belly Fat
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

Medically reviewed by

Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 6 min read

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Carrying a few extra pounds is an issue a lot of Americans have and, honestly, can live with it quite well. You're not alone or in particular danger if you have a few pounds too much around the belt line. That is, unless you carry it around the front of your stomach. While extra weight can be annoying for anyone, people who hold all their fat in their belly are at more risk than others. 


The trouble with belly fat is that it's not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes visceral fat - which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs. And Regardless of your overall weight, having a significant amount of belly fat increases your risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type two diabetes, colorectal cancer, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and premature death from any cause. 


Now, your weight is largely determined on how you take care of yourself. Calorie intake, how many you burn, the type of food that you eat, exercise, etc. These are factors that are all generally obvious in how they'll affect your body composition. 


But there are certainly other things that play a role, such as age. As you age, you lose muscle- especially if you're not physically active. And that means loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men in their 50s need about 200 fewer calories daily than they do in their 30s due to this muscle loss.


And while many people use this concept as a simple crutch, genetics can contribute to your chances of being overweight or obese, as well as play a role in how you store fat. However, a proper diet and exercise that you adapt as you age can help prevent weight gain, despite how old you are or your genetics. 


Drinking excess alcohol can cause you to gain belly fat - the beer belly. However, beer alone isn't to blame. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase belly fat, because alcohol contains calories. Although some research suggests wine might be an exception, if you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation.

For men age 65 and younger, moderation means up to two drinks a day. For men, older than age 65, it means up to one drink a day. The less you drink, the fewer calories you'll consume and the less likely you'll be to gain belly fat.


So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Measure your waist:

Stand and place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.

Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn't push into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.

Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.

For men, a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.