Abdominal Obesity and Health Risks

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abdominal obesity
It is common knowledge that excess body fat has a negative affect on health. But while the emphasis has long been on the Body Mass Index to measure health-harming excess weight, the growing trend is to use waist measurements and waist-to-hip ratios as indicators for health issues such as metabolic syndrome and heart disease.

A belly full of health problems

Abdominal fat is a proven risk factor for many chronic conditions. In the December 2007 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, a study found that abdominal obesity is a better indicator of heart disease than weight or waist measurements alone.

Excess belly fat almost doubles a woman's chances of developing gallstones, as shown by a two-year study of more than 42,000 women in the United States published in the journal Gut in February 2006.

Other findings published on August 21 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that people with higher waist-to-hip ratios have more atherosclerotic plaque than those with smaller waist-to-hip ratios.

A man’s waist size is also a better predictor of his risk of developing type 2 diabetes than BMI or a waist-to-hip ratio alone, according to 2005 data from the Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

Researchers from the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, Canada also discovered in 2007 that large waist-to-hip ratios are associated with impaired breathing in the morbidly obese due to the large fat mass surrounding the abdomen.

Underlying causes

Although research is inconclusive about the exact causes of abdominal fat, many theories have been developed.

Genes could influence how much abdominal fat postmenopausal women accumulate and where according to a 2001 study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

Abdominal fat also seems to go hand in hand with stress, as shown by a Yale University study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in the fall of 2004, which reported that the stress hormone cortisol has an exaggerated effect on women with excess belly fat but who were otherwise lean.

Another substance in the body that is linked with abdominal fat, according to findings in 2001 by researchers at the Quebec Heart Institute, is C-reactive protein, a protein involved in the inflammation response.

It is inconclusive as to whether alcohol increases abdominal fat. While some scientists think that increased cortisol levels after alcohol consumption are to blame, others point to alcohol’s suppression of the body’s fat-burning ability.

Alternative medicine theories, on the other hand, link belly fat to accumulated undigested waste in the colon or impaired liver function due to excess toxins.

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