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5 Worst Dangers of Visceral Fat, Says Science

There's nothing cute about belly fat—it can cause serious health hazards.

Visceral fat—more commonly known as belly fat—is more than unsightly. It just might be eating you alive. This type of fat isn't the kind you can pinch or feel; visceral fat surrounds organs deep within the abdomen, like the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestines. And its proximity to those vital organs can cause serious problems. These are the five worst dangers of visceral fat. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Why Is Visceral Fat Dangerous?


Fat stored in the abdomen seems to increase the production of inflammatory substances in the body. Its proximity to vital organs like the heart and liver can deposit those toxins there, with potentially dangerous consequences—including the following five big health risks.


Heart Disease

Asian Businessman standing near the window and having chest pain.

"Studies that have examined the relationship between abdominal fat and cardiovascular outcomes confirm that visceral fat is a clear health hazard," said the lead author of a study published last April in the journal Circulation. It found that people with excess belly fat had a greater risk of heart attack even if they had a normal BMI (body mass index).  And a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women who carried more weight around their middles had a 10% to 20% greater risk of heart attack than women who were heavier overall. 

How to reduce belly fat and its attendant risks? Get 150 minutes of exercise each week, the American Heart Association says, adding that exercise—by itself or in combination with a healthier diet—may reduce belly fat even if you don't lose weight.

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Fatty Liver Disease

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

According to the Cleveland Clinic, excess visceral fat raises your risk of serious metabolic disorders like fatty liver disease, a condition in which too much fat builds up in the liver. This prevents the vital organ from doing its crucial jobs—cleansing the body of toxins and metabolizing the fats and carbs you consume. Left unchecked, fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

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Increased Cancer Risk

Overweight woman discussing test results with doctor in hospital.

According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, excess belly fat is associated with an increased risk of several cancers. Those include: 

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Breast cancer (after menopause)
  • Uterine cancer


Increased Diabetes Risk

Woman checking blood sugar level while sitting on bench

Too much belly fat increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. "Visceral fat can weaken or damage your organs," says MD Anderson. "Too much visceral fat can tell your body to make more insulin than it needs. High levels of insulin over time can lead to diseases like diabetes and cancer."

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Chronic Kidney Disease

Woman with pain in kidneys at home on couch

A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that people who are "apple-shaped"—or carrying more fat around the belly—had higher blood pressure in their kidneys, even if they weren't technically overweight. Over time, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, compromising their ability to filter toxins from the blood.

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How to Reduce Visceral Fat

Mature fitness woman tie shoelaces on road

Following a healthy diet is important, but dieting alone won't reduce belly fat. Exercise is key. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, exercise melts belly fat because it reduces insulin (which signals the body to hang on to fat) and spurs the liver to burn nearby fatty deposits.

It bears repeating: To reduce belly fat—and your risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer—aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking, dancing or gardening) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (like running, cycling or swimming) every week. 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