Excess Belly Fat a Risk for Heart Disease

It is a common complaint among men and women over 40 that they have no longer have a defined waist, even if they are not considered overweight or obese.  A tummy “situation” may be cause for concern as new heart health guidelines focus on the health risks of belly fat rather than just bodyweight.  

The 2021 American Heart Association guidelines for heart disease risk were recently published in the journal Circulation.  According to Everyday Health, the AMA recommends that annual health checkups include measuring the waist. Too much belly fat (visceral adipose tissue) wraps around organs in the abdomen and can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Visceral fat that accumulates around organs like the liver and heart can increase inflammation and contribute to higher lipid levels that lead to the buildup of plaques on artery walls.  When arteries are blocked by these plaques, patients can suffer a heart attack or stroke. People with an accumulation of belly fat, even if they aren’t overweight, may also have high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. 

Bodyweight alone doesn’t necessarily determine if a person is metabolically healthy.  But carrying extra fat around the middle is now considered to be a health risk, even at a normal weight.  Conversely, people who are obese but don’t have much belly fat may be metabolically healthier than a person who is not overweight but has belly fat. 

According to prior research, men with a healthy Body Mass Index of 22 who had excess belly fat had more than double the risk of death during the 20-year study than those who didn’t have a high waist circumference.  Women who participated in the study with a normal BMI but carried extra belly fat were at a 32 percent greater mortality risk.  

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-pregnant women with a waist size larger than 35 inches and men with a waist greater than 40 inches are at a higher risk for health problems.   The waist to hip ratio calculator can also be a measure that can indicate possible health risks of an apple-shaped figure. 

There is no one sure-fire way to lose belly fat but eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet, getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, and limiting refined sugar and alcohol is a good place to start.  Stopping eating at night by 7 or 8 p.m., when it’s easy to start snacking, can aid in weight loss.  Losing just five percent of your body weight can significantly improve overall health. 

Follow this link to the Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Lifestyle section for more information on losing and keeping off excess belly fat.  Always talk with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise plan.