Beware of abdominal fat; it not only impacts your weight but can also damage your health.
Some of the abdominal fat is located in the fatty tissue just beneath the skin. This subcutaneous fat behaves like the fat elsewhere in the body; it's no friend to health, but it's no special threat either.
However, belly or visceral fat, which is located around the internal organs, can damage your health.
One way to evaluate body fat is to measure height and weight, then calculate body mass index (BMI). This is now the standard way to diagnose obesity. Another simple method uses the ratio of the waist and hip measurements.
But many experts are turning to an even simpler technique: waist circumference. Because it involves one measurement instead of two, it's more accurate and reproducible.
And new research suggests that this simple measurement is the best way to tell who is at risk for the serious consequences of obesity.
Scientists thought visceral fat was dangerous because it was linked to elevated stress hormones, which raise blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cardiac risk.
A newer explanation relies on the concept of lipotoxicity. Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat cells release their metabolic products directly into the blood, so free fatty acids from visceral fat accumulate in the liver and other organs.
This impairs the body's regulation of insulin, blood sugar and cholesterol and leads to heart problems.
A third hypothesis starts with the complex role of fat cells. In addition to hoarding excess energy, fat cells produce a large number of proteins that contribute to metabolic abnormalities, inflammation, and heart disease.
These three explanations are not mutually exclusive; all may help account for the hazards of visceral fat, according to a Harvard release.
Harvard medical experts suggest that the only way to reduce belly fat is to lose weight and the only way to lose weight is to burn up more calories with exercise than you take in from food.