What do you think these numbers represent: 69.3, 195.5, 39.7? And 63.8, 166.2, 37.5?
They’re the height, weight and waist circumferences of the average American man and woman. And they add up to huge health problems. The biggest culprit? The waist measurements – 39.7 inches (guys) and 37.5 inches (gals) – indicating that most of YOU have large deposits of visceral belly fat surrounding your internal organs.
Study after study shows that whether you’re normal weight, overweight or obese, it’s the amount of visceral belly fat you have pushing your belly button ever-forward that puts your health at greatest risk.
What sends fat to your belly? Visceral fat is deposited when you eat more calories than you burn and eat highly processed and sugary foods. Those foods spike blood glucose levels and production of insulin. Excess glucose is stored as fat and excess insulin triggers a hormonal cascade that ends up depositing fat in your midsection.
Recent studies show how far-reaching the impact of visceral fat is on your health and well-being.
Belly Fat and Stress: Chronic stress drenches your cells with cortisol. That, in turn, stimulates glucose production in the liver that, if excessive, gets stored as fat. It also causes fat deposits to relocate deep in the abdomen and enlarges the size of fat cells. Then in a vicious, visceral cycle, fat cells in the belly stimulate production of cortisol in surrounding tissue. The result: immune system dysregulation, bodywide inflammation, increased risk of heart disease and anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, and high blood pressure.
Belly Fat and Cancer: The American Institute for Cancer Research says the risk of colon cancer increases 5 percent for each 1-inch increase in waist size. An oversize waist also has been found to increase the risk for pancreatic, breast and colon cancer (after menopause) and uterine cancers.
Dialing in Diabetes: Excessive belly fat is associated with a twofold increase of your risk for diabetes – even if you’re a “normal” weight.
Cascading Cardio Problems: All that abdominal fat increases the load of free fatty acids in the liver, which increases lousy LDL cholesterol and lowers heart-friendly HDL cholesterol. The result? A much greater risk for atherosclerosis and heart disease.
You can banish that belly fat by changing your diet and exercise habits: You’re aiming for a waist size of 35 inches or less for women and 40 or less for men.
Physical activity: Get a minimum of 150 minutes weekly of extra physical activity; better yet, get 10,000 steps a day and two to three, 30-minute sessions of strength training weekly. Want to do more? The STRIDE study found that the equivalent of jogging 20 miles per week substantially decreases stores of visceral fat.
Nutritional Upgrade: Ditch trans fats. Lab studies show that eating trans fats causes up to 30 percent more visceral fat to be deposited in the belly. So steer clear of margarine, store-bought baked goods, frostings and crackers, microwavable breakfast sandwiches, frozen pizza and any food that has partially hydrogenated oils or fats listed on the ingredient label.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.