If your waist measures 35 or more inches as a woman or 40 or more inches as a man, you may have a dangerous amount of abdominal fat—also known as visceral fat. "Visceral fat coats some of your internal organs and hangs down like an apron from your large intestine," says gastroenterologist Samuel Klein, chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "It's associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases, including insulin resistance, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease." Here are five signs your belly fat is dangerous. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
That Beer Belly is Bad News
Abdominal fat which is hard and protruding is particularly concerning. "A person with a very firm beer belly is at even higher risk for health problems," says Daniel Allan, MD. "That is because it is typically caused by a high accumulation of internal organ (or visceral) fat. This is the fat that is located in the organs themselves and between the organs inside your abdomen. It is packed in tightly and, as it builds up, it will push the abdominal wall outward, exaggerating the appearance of the beer belly. The abdominal wall itself is made of muscle and tough fibrous tissues and is very firm; thus the belly will feel hard."
Belly Fat and Cancer
Long-term abdominal fat is linked to various cancers for both men and women. "There are not only cardiovascular risks in the long-term causing heart attacks and strokes down the road," says Dr. Ray Schilling. "There is a danger of fat deposits in the liver, called fatty liver disease. In time this can turn into liver cirrhosis and in some cases develop into liver cancer. Because belly fat causes inflammation in the system including in the lining of the blood vessels, this can in time also affect the immune system, weakening it and eventually allowing cancer to develop. Common cancers that are associated with obesity are breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer in women, prostate cancer in men and pancreas and colon cancer in both sexes."
The Risk of Being "Skinny Fat"
It's possible to be slender and still carry dangerous visceral fat. "I see these people all the time," says Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. "On the outside they look incredibly healthy, but on the inside they're a wreck."
Your Diet Is Terrible
Visceral fat is closely linked with a bad diet—so if you aren't following a healthy diet (for example, the Mediterranean diet), chances are your belly fat will only get worse. "When you're eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods, it causes visceral fat storage, and that can lead to all sorts of risk factors of being overweight," says Dr. Mark Hyman.
You Never Exercise
If regular exercise isn't a part of your lifestyle, there's little to no doubt your belly fat is dangerous and could lead to serious health issues. "Visceral fat can affect local organs or the entire body system. Systemically it can affect your heart and liver, as well as abdominal organs," says cardiologist Dr. Ian J. Neeland, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine. "When studies use weight or body mass index as a metric, we don't know if the interventions are reducing fat everywhere in the body, or just near the surface. The location and type of fat is important. If you just measure weight or BMI, you can underestimate the benefit to your health of losing weight. Exercise can actually melt visceral fat."