A new study has linked belly fat to a higher risk of premature death. If that wasn't scary enough, researchers found this causation holds true regardless of overall body fat (a.k.a. regardless of where you are on the normal to obese weight range).
Each 10-centimeter increase in belly fat raised the risk of death from any cause by 8% for women and by 12% for men. But researchers also found that larger hips and thighs are associated with a lower risk of early death. Every additional 5 centimeters on the thigh circumference decreased risk by 18%. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
These conclusions were drawn when researchers reviewed 72 studies and examined the data of about 2.5 million participants, tracking them for periods of time ranging from 3 to 24 years. Several measures of fat were used, including waist-to-hip ratio; waist-to-thigh ratio; and waist and thigh circumference.
So why is belly fat so much more detrimental to your health than fat on other parts of the body? Belly fat is a unique signal that your internal organs have a higher amount of fat on them, too. Visceral fat is basically the fat that you can't see, but it builds up around various organs like the liver, the pancreas, and the intestines.
This is where the true danger lies: Unlike the subcutaneous fat deposits you see on the outside of your body, visceral fat plays a part in how your hormones function. Also called "active fat," visceral fat affects hormones by secreting a protein which leads to an increased resistance to insulin. Insulin resistance boosts your risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, excess cholesterol, some cancers, and Alzheimer's disease.
According to CNN Health, a good way to find out whether your belly fat is in the danger zone is by simply measuring your belly circumference with a soft measuring tape. Anything above 35 inches (89 centimeters) for women and 40 inches (102 centimeters) is considered a potentially higher health risk.
Even if you have an unhealthy amount of belly fat, it's never too late to do something about it. Check out The Best Ways to Lose Belly Fat for Good, According to Doctors to jumpstart your belly fat weight loss routine today.
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