Deadly Belly Fat

How You Carry Fat Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

Senior woman measuring stomach of senior man, mid section
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Regardless of any other body fat, extra belly fat can put you in danger and increase male risk for heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and sleep apnea.

Know Your Waist Circumference

It’s important to know your waist circumference to help determine your risk. For men, a waist circumference of over 40 inches (over 35 inches for women) indicates abdominal obesity. Abdominal obesity increases your chances of developing health problems and heart disease, even in people who aren’t overweight.

 Extra abdominal weight is carried around the middle, giving an apple shape to the physique.

Types of Belly Fat

There are 2 types of belly fat, subcutaneous and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is superficial and stored beneath the skin, making it soft and easy to pinch with your fingers. Visceral fat is stored deep within the abdomen and surrounds your internal organs. It looks and feels hard to the touch. Visceral fat is bad news. It makes you increasingly vulnerable to a laundry list of health problems, especially cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s is also linked to higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad), lower levels of HDL cholesterol (good), and insulin resistance.

Risks of Visceral Fat

Research shows that excess body fat, especially belly fat, alters hormonal balance and function, as abdominal fat cells release harmful substances. Visceral fat has been found to release free fatty acids and cytokines.

Free fatty acids can alter the production of blood lipids in the liver whereas cytokines are chemicals affecting the immune system, capable of altering insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting throughout the body. Both increase risk of heart disease.

Carrying visceral fat is even more dangerous than simply being overweight.

 If two people have the same height and weight, but one person holds more visceral belly fat, the one with more visceral belly fat is at a higher risk for heart disease. Both types of belly fat increase the risk for heart disease as opposed to having no belly fat, however, the risk associated with visceral fat is higher.

Fat Storage and Aging

Where we deposit our fat is affected by aging, genetics, and hormones. Aging causes the body to naturally lose muscle mass, decreasing the total calories needed to maintain your same body weight. Some men also lose their capability to store fat in their limbs as they get older, which forces more fat to deposit on their waist. Genetics also affect where we store our fat and our predisposition to weight gain.

Lose Body Fat to Reduce Risks

Our goal is to get rid of belly fat, and especially visceral fat. The best way to reduce visceral fat is through diet and exercise. Losing just 3-5% of body weight can improve your health and lower heart disease risk. Each day, it’s important to balance the calories you consume with the energy you burn.  You will gain weight (including belly fat) if you tend to eat and drink more calories than you burn. Controlling bodyweight is important.

To ignite weight loss, consume fewer calories than you burn. Try reducing portion sizes and eating lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, including fruits, veggies, and whole grains, instead of simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates include white breads, refined-grain breads and pastas, overly processed foods, and sugary drinks. Also, polyunsaturated fats such as fish oil are healthier than saturated or trans fats.

The key to getting rid of belly fat is to identify and replace your unhealthy habits promoting belly fat, with new healthy habits to promote a leaner waistline. Sticking to this goal can literally save your life.



Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It. Harvard Health Publications, 2015.

Belly Fat in Men: Why Weight Loss Matters. Mayo Clinic, 2013.

Belly Fat Increases Risk for Heart Disease. American College of Cardiology, 2014.

Waist Size Matters. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.