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This One Thing Can Lead to More Visceral Fat, Says New Study

Biased weight gain is real.

Abdominal fat is an issue many deal with. Extra pounds in the midsection happens for various reasons such as stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and a result of aging, but it's women who feel more "stigmatized" by it then men "regardless of their body mass index or weight" News Medical Life Services, reports from preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2021. The study included 70 participants that aged from 22-39 with an average of 33% total body fat. "Some people who struggle with managing their weight may devalue themselves based on external messages from society telling them they are unattractive, self-indulgent or weak-willed because they weigh more. When these 'anti-fat' messages are internalized, people often feel shame, which in turn, may make them vulnerable to weight gain, "Natalie Keirns, M.S., lead study author, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma stated in the study. Read below to find out more about stubborn belly fat and how biased weight gain affects women—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Connection Between Abdominal or Visceral Fat and Self-Devaluation

Depressed overweight woman on bed at home

Keirns says, "We know that stress may lead to weight gain and, specifically, to higher visceral fat. Visceral adiposity is the type of fat that is more closely related to CVD risk. Shame, specifically as an emotion, is related to human stress response. When we feel shame, our production of cortisol increases, which can lead to the accumulation of visceral fat."

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Internalized Weight Stigma

Overweight young woman sitting on white bed while holding hands cover on her face at home. Upset female suffering from extra weight in the bedroom. Obesity unhealthily concept.

For this study, Keirns and her colleagues evaluated whether internalized weight stigma is connected to women accumulating more visceral fat.

According to News Medical Life Services, the findings showed the following. 

  • "Women had higher levels of weight bias internalization (average WBIS score of 3.5) than men (average WBIS score of 2.7).
  • Higher levels of internalized weight stigma corresponded to higher levels of visceral fat in women only. For women, each one-point increase on the WBIS-M score corresponded to an average increase of 0.14 pounds of visceral fat. For men, each one-point increase on the WBIS-M score was unrelated to visceral fat."

Keirns revealed, "Even though men typically, on average, had more of this harmful fat than women, we didn't see the same relationship with the psychological, social stigma. For women, the way we view our bodies, and the way others view and judge our bodies appears to have negative effects. Even though the women had less visceral adiposity than men, it may be impacting our health more because of the negative way we feel about ourselves."


Medical Professionals and Weight Bias

Healthcare worker at home visit

After conducting the study, Keirns suggested medical professionals should reconsider how they approach patients with abdominal fat. 

"Among health care professionals, we need to be more aware of our assumptions and how weight bias can negatively affect our patients," Keirns said. "Shifting the conversation from weight loss to health gain may be a simple way to change these conversations in order to eliminate what amounts to bias and judgment toward patients of higher weight."

RELATED: The #1 Cause of Visceral Fat, According to Science


The Challenge of Weight Bias

Overweight woman discussing test results with doctor in hospital.

With the findings of the study showing how significant weight bias is towards women, it's "a significant barrier to us successfully addressing obesity," said American Heart Association volunteer expert Chiadi Ericson Ndumele, M.D., Ph.D., M.H.S., the Robert E. Meyerhoff Assistant Professor of Cardiology, Clinical Connection in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He added, "Clinicians should be aware that weight stigma leads to more stress, higher cortisol levels, a greater likelihood of unhealthy behaviors, lower likelihood of seeking care and generally contributes to more weight gain and worse outcomes." 

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Other Factors that Contribute to Weight Bias

obese woman

Ndumele addressed an essential factor in weight bias and stated, "In addition, it's important to be aware that clinical environments often perpetuate a significant amount of weight stigma. There is a lot of anti-weight bias in the communications and the kind of care patients receive within clinical environments. It's up to us to have a healthier approach to how we're thinking about and addressing obesity with our patients, which really relates to how well we appreciate the complexity of the factors that lead to the development of obesity." So aim for that healthier approach, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather