Belly Fat Is More Dangerous than Obesity, New Studies Show - My Bariatric Life

Patient Expert

It always scares me when I read about the health risks of abdominal obesity, also known as central obesity. Although I am no longer obese -- having lost weight from gastric bypass surgery and healthful lifestyle changes - new studies are showing that even people of normal weight who have a lot of fat around their midsections have increased health risks.

Measuring Central Obesity

Central obesity is measured by comparing the circumference of a patient's stomach to a circumference of the hips. When the stomach measurement is 90 percent or more of the hip measurement in men, and 85 percent or more of the hip measurement in women, a patient generally is thought to have a worrisome distribution of fat.

It seems ironic to me that when I was obese I had an hour-glass figure (albeit a very large hour glass) and now after losing 100lbs I have a very thick waist. Back then, my waist was 10" smaller than my bust and hips. Nowadays, my waist is 6" smaller than my bust and 4" smaller than my hips.

While I think that I am better off health-wise today than when I was morbidly obese, new studies seem to indicate otherwise. So, I am growing concerned about the threat of serious illness in light of my belly fat (known as visceral fat). My stomach measurement is 90% of my hip measurement.

Obesity and Fat Cells

A healthy adult with normal body composition has about 25 to 30 billion fat cells. A typical overweight adult has around 75 billion fat cells. In the case of severe obesity, fat cells can number as high as 250 to 300 billion. Fat cells in obese people actually are made differently than fat cells in people of normal weight. An overweight person's fat cells can be three times larger than a person with ideal body composition.

Recent research suggests that fat cells are biologically active. They secrete dozens of hormones and other chemicals that affect nearly every organ in the body. When your weight is normal, these hormones and chemicals keep you healthy. But if you are overweight, your super-sized fat cells release more hormones and chemicals than your body needs, especially if they constitute belly fat (visceral fat).

Health Risks of Abdominal Obesity

This flood of hormones and chemicals can take a toll on your health. Obesity increases inflammation, especially in people with so-called "apple-shapes." Evidence shows that this leads to all sorts of diseases - dementia, cancer, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes to name a few.

I already have diabetes as a result of my former obesity. Diabetes never goes away. So even though I've had massive weight loss and maintain normal blood sugar levels without medication, I remain at risk for diabetes-related illnesses. What's more, diabetes accelerates aging of every organ.

Death Rates and Excess Abdominal Fat

According to Johns Hopkins, studies show that death rates are substantially higher in obese adults, especially those with excess fat in the abdomen instead of the hips. Researchers evaluated the relationship between abdominal obesity and total obesity (measured by BMI) with all-causes of death in 15,923 people.  After a median follow-up of 2.3 years, there were 5,696 deaths. Mortality (death) was 70 percent higher in those with abdominal obesity. By contrast, total obesity was associated with a lower mortality. Those with a normal BMI also had a 70 per ­cent higher mortality if they also had central obesity.

And a new study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that adults who aren't technically overweight but have a lot of fat around their midsections run a higher death risk than people who are obese.

While losing weight is challenging, these are new, compelling reasons to try to shed those extra pounds especially if they're around your middle.

What to read next: Trans Fat Causes Belly Fat, High Cholesterol** References:** accessed 9-20-2012

Harvard Health Publications accessed 9-20-2012

Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, Nutrition and Weight Control,    accessed 9-20-2012 accessed 9-20-2012

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You can read about  my decision  to have weight loss surgery back in 2003, and since that time  my journey  from processed food junkie to healthy living so as to  maintain a lifetime of obesity disease management. My wish is to help you on your own journey of  lifetime obesity disease management.  Whether you are planning or have had bariatric surgery, or you want to lose weight through non-surgical means, my shareposts along the way will help you to navigate your journey successfully.