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Mind Your Midsection: What Your Belly Fat Really Means

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Take note, Santa. Recent research released by the Mayo Clinic found that people with a concentration of fat around their waists were at greater risk of early death than other obese people.

Calling it a "significant finding" the research, which was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress held in Germany in August, found that individuals with "central obesity" – a higher waist-to-hip ratio – also had the highest risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers studied data collected on nearly 13,000 adults age 18 and older taken from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Data including body measurements on height, weight, waist and hip circumferences, along with several other factors including socioeconomic status, were matched up with data from the National Death Index.

The Mayo Clinic's team studied the data, divided by BMI (body mass index) categories ranging from normal to overweight to obese, along with categories on the waist-to-hip ratio—either "normal" or "high." 

According to a statement on the Mayo Clinic's website, "the risk of cardiovascular death was 2.75 times higher, and the risk of death from all causes was 2.08 times higher, in people of normal weight with central obesity, compared with those with a normal body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio."

While the reason for the increased rate of early death is not exactly clear, Karine Sahakyan, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiovascular research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, said that it may be related to a higher visceral fat accumulation. This condition is associated with several factors including insulin resistance and less fat on the hips or legs, which actually provides protective health effects.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Abdominal obesity is defined as waist circumferences of 40 inches or more in men and 35 inches or more in women. Reuters Health estimates that abdominal obesity affects nearly 40 percent of men and 62 percent of women. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that two-thirds of adult Americans are either overweight or obese. That number could jump to 75 percent by 2015 if current trends continue.

Several factors contribute to the accumulation of belly fat: namely poor food choices, lack of exercise and excessive sitting. As well, as we age, we tend to accumulate more fat around the waist, even if we're otherwise healthy. 

Belly fat is not just superficial; it is deep within the abdominal region, surrounding vital organs. This "visceral fat" actually produces hormones and other chemicals that contribute to a number of health risks including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

While it will certainly help, adjusting your exercise routine may not be enough to reduce belly fat. Reducing or eliminating sugar has been shown to be effective in decreasing dangerous belly fat. And while it may seem counterintuitive, adding monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) to every meal can also aid in burning belly fat. Find MUFAs in coconut oil, avocados and walnuts.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger


Image: mikebaird

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