between a large waist and a higher
risk of death—even among people
who aren’t overweight. In fact,
researchers now say your waist
size—which generally reflects the
amount of visceral fat you carry—
may be a better predictor of disease
than your BMI (body mass index).
“People like to draw this analogy
to real estate. It’s location, location,
location that matters,” and that goes
for fat, too, says Philipp Scherer, of
the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
The body runs on energy supplied by food. Eat too much and the
body stores excess calories in the
form of fat. Until recently, scientists thought fat cells were simply
storage units. But researchers now
consider visceral fat an active organ, like the liver or pancreas. “Our
views of fat have changed over the
last 15 years,” says Scherer.
About Belly Fat
1. Belly fat is the most
dangerous fat on your body,
linked to diabetes, stroke,
heart disease and cancer.
2. For people over age 50,
belly fat is often the easiest
fat to lose.
3. Crunches and sit-ups
4. Diet and exercise
together do work.
5. Danger zone: 35-inch or
larger waist for women, 40-
inch or larger for men.
Visceral fat actually se- cretes hormones and lipids—such as triglycerides—that are harmful to the body, says David Cummings, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Washington Medical School. It
impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. And it triggers inflammation that can cause heart disease. Cummings says women’s risk of heart disease rises after menopause to the
level of men’s because that’s when women begin to accumulate belly fat.
There’s also strong evidence that visceral fat may cause colon
cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Moreover, this
dangerous fat is associated with a higher risk of rectal, pancreatic,
endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancer. The connection
between belly fat and cancer is not well understood, but scientists
think excess fat may boost levels of insulin and estrogen, among other
hormones, triggering the growth of abnormal cells. Recent studies
also have linked belly fat to poor brain health.
So how do you lose belly fat? Experts say there is no magic formula,
but it can be done, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. When
you use the classic combination of diet and exercise, visceral fat is
often the first to go.
Workout videos and glossy magazines promise that crunches, sit-ups and other abdominal exercises will help banish belly fat. Not so,
says Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity for the
American Cancer Society. These exercises will tone and strengthen abdominal muscles, but they won’t help melt away the fat. “A lot of people
say, ‘I’m going to do 1,000 crunches a day,’ but you can’t spot-reduce,”
says Doyle, who recommends finding a physical activity that you enjoy and will do regularly—whether it’s a walk, a jog or a tennis match.
And a note to smokers: Beware of trying to Continued on page 13