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Signs You Have "Too Much Fat" on Your Waist

Extra fat can be seriously dangerous to your health.

The "dad bod" meme of recent years—and the pandemic weight gain that's all too common—have led many of us to chuckle at the idea of putting on a few extra pounds along the midsection. The truth is, carrying excess fat around your waist is directly and seriously hazardous to your health. Gaining too much fat in this location—also known as abdominal fat, belly fat or visceral fat—can have severe effects that go way beyond a dented ego or depleted clothes budget. Read on to find out more about the signs you have too much fat on your waist—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The First Sign

Overweight Woman Trying To Fasten Trousers

The initial sign that you have too much fat on your waist is an increase in your waist circumference. Your pants may feel tighter or you may have to loosen your belt a notch. To determine your waist size, use a cloth tape measure and measure at the navel.

The danger sign flashes red after a certain number. Excess abdominal fat puts you at high risk for a heart attack or stroke if your waist measures above 40 inches (for men) and above 35 inches (for women). You're at intermediate risk if you're a man with a waist size from 37.1 to 39.9 inches, or a woman with a waist size of 31.6 to 34.9 inches.

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Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Person measuring their waste line

Another way to check for abdominal obesity is to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio. With your abdomen relaxed, measure your waist at the belly button. Then measure your hips at their widest point. Divide your waist size by your hip size. The chance of a heart attack or stroke rises for men when that ratio exceeds 0.95.  For women, the risk increases over 0.85.

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Where Does Abdominal Fat Sit, Exactly?

doctors appointment physician shows to patient shape of liver with focus on hand with organ

The amount of fat under your skin—the kind you can grab or pinch—is called subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat lies deep within the abdomen, under the abdominal muscles. It can surround organs like the intestines, stomach, liver and pancreas and sits dangerously close to the heart, potentially impeding any of those organs from functioning optimally.

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Why Is Abdominal Fat Bad?

man having heart attack

Visceral fat produces hormones and inflammatory substances that raise the risk of serious disease, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Because visceral fat lies close to the liver and pancreas, it can spill harmful free fatty acids and inflammation-causing cytokines directly into those organs. The potential results: Higher "bad" LDL cholesterol, lower "good" HDL cholesterol," slower fat metabolism, and greater insulin resistance (meaning the body is less able to process blood sugar).

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How to Rid of Visceral Fat

Say no to drinking soda stop drinking sugar

Experts say weight loss alone can reduce visceral fat very effectively—by dropping just 10% of your body weight, you may lose up to 30% of your belly fat. Certain dietary changes can help get you there. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, processed foods, saturated and trans fats, and fast foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Experts also say exercise is crucial to burning belly fat. Moderate physical activity combined with strength training seems to be most effective. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael