Why Belly Fat is Especially Bad: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Carrying a disproportionate amount of weight around your middle can be bad for aesthetic reasons, but research is showing that excessive belly fat can be even more detrimental to your health. A link has been found between belly fat and heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions.


    Obstructive sleep apnea

    One recent study has found that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is linked to abdominal fat accumulation in men, which may shed light on why OSA and heart disease affects more men. The study looked at 271 men and 100 women, who were evaluated for OSA between October 2008 and December 2010. Though body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were similar in both men and women, men had more belly fat, more severe OSA and more severe dyslipidemia, or abnormal amount of cholesterol or fat in the blood.

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    After a statistical analysis, they found that in men, age, BMI and two OSA indicators were independently associated with belly fat, while in women, only BMI was associated with belly fat.


                   [SLIDESHOW: 7 Things That Worsen Sleep Apnea]



    Kidney disease

    Another thing to worry about when you have extra fat on your middle is your kidneys –even if you are not overweight, according to another recent study. Researchers in the Netherlands looked at 315 men and women, and studied the blood flow through their kidneys. They found that the people with higher waist-to-hip ratios, those who store more fat around their belly, had higher blood pressure in their kidneys despite not being overweight. Left untreated, higher blood pressure in the kidneys can damage the small vessels and decrease their ability to expel waste.


    Researcher also found that for each one unit increase in waist-to-hip ration was linked to a loss of blood flow through the kidneys smallest filters, glomeruli, by about 4 milliliters per minute. The association was seen even in people who did not have high blood pressure or diabetes. Though weight did not change the association, the heavier the person was, the higher their risk.



    A 2010 study found that belly fat might also have a connection to dementia. They study looked at 733 men and women with an average age of 60 starting in 1971. Participants underwent MRI brain scans to measure their brain size, as well as a CT to see the amount of belly fat underneath the skin. BMI, waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference were also noted. They found that the strongest link was seen between abdominal fat and brain size – the more belly fat, the less brain volume. That link was seen regardless of BMI, which suggests that belly fat is a better indicator of dementia than BMI.


    Researchers noted that extra fat could trigger inflammation that puts more stress on the body, which could affect the brain. In previous studies, smaller brain volumes have been tied to a higher risk for dementia, however, none of the belly fat study participants had dementia.


                   [SLIDESHOW: 12 Ways to Slow Mental Decline]


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    A 2012 study found that belly fat could even put you at an increased risk for death, despite having a normal weight. Researchers gathered and analyzed data on 12,785 American adults with an average age of 44. The database gave information on each person’s hip measurement, waist size, height, weight, socioeconomic status, illness and other things. They matched this data with the National Death Index to make calculations on lifespans and reasons for early death.


    Researchers then calculated BMI for each person and divided them into three categories; normal, overweight and obese. They also divided waist-to-hip ratio measurements into normal and high. Over a follow-up period of 14.3 years, 2,562 people died, and 1,138 were due to cardiovascular issues. Researchers found that people of normal weight with excess belly fat were 2.75 times more likely to have a cardiovascular death than normal weight people without excess belly fat, and 2.08 more likely to die from any cause than normal weight people without belly fat.



    American Thoracic Society. (2013, May 24). "Obstructive Sleep Apnea Associated With Abdominal Fat Accumulation In Men." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/260909.php


    n.p. (2011, February 5). “Belly fat in men: Why weight loss matters.” Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/belly-fat/MC00054


    HealthDay. (2013, April 11). “Belly Fat May Be Tied to Kidney Damage.” MedlinePlus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_135828.html


    Rettner, Rachael. (2010, May 21). “Belly Fat Linked to Dementia.” Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/6492-belly-fat-linked-dementia.html


    Nordqvist, C. (2012, August 29). "Normal Weight People With Belly Fat More Likely To Die." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249622.php



Published On: June 04, 2013