Your Body Shape and Your Health

All fat is not equal. When it comes to people who are overweight or obese, those with the most concentration of “belly fat” are at highest risk for such serious obesity-related conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. This is also called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.”

One simple way to estimate your potential disease risk is to measure your waist circumference. Your waistline may be telling you that you have a higher risk of developing obesity-related conditions if you are a man whose waist circumference is more than 40 inches; or a non-pregnant woman whose waist circumference is more than 35 inches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The fat that lies just below your skin, the kind you can grab with your hands, is called subcutaneous fat. But in the belly, it’s visceral fat because it builds up in the spaces between and around your viscera — internal organs like your stomach and intestines. Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic problems and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer.

(Video: The Baptist Health South Florida News Team hears from Jose Vazquez, M.D., internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, about the dangers of belly fat in overweight or obese individuals. Video by George Carvalho and Alcyene Almeida Rodrigues.)

“Belly fat has been shown to be the worst type of fat that you can carry,” said Jose Vazquez, M.D., internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “We need to do a better job of educating patients about this. Obesity is actually considered a disease. Either being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor (for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other serious chronic conditions).”

Apple vs. Pear Shapes

Recent studies have found that apple-shaped bodies, with high visceral fat concentration in the belly, run a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to people with “pear shaped” bodies in which more fat is concentrated in the hips or lower — regardless of overall body weight or body mass index (BMI).

A study published last year by the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah and Johns Hopkins University concluded that maintaining a waist size of 34 inches or less in women and 40 inches or less in men greatly reduced the chances of developing these conditions.

Diet and Exercise

Primary care physicians and dietitians stress that permanent weight reduction can be best achieved with a combination of healthier eating and regular exercise. You’re more likely to develop belly fat with a diet that is packed with calories, refined carbohydrates and sugar. Eating refined carbs results in potential surges in blood sugar levels and insulin, which can then increase the amount of belly fat that the body will store.

High-fiber diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, have been linked to weight loss and blood sugar control (higher insulin sensitivity). Moreover, you’re less likely to overeat when you get enough fiber. A healthy diet contains a daily serving of 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men.

For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, brisk walking included, at least five days per week for a total of 150 minutes — or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes — or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.

“Diet goes hand-in-hand with exercise,” says Dr. Vazquez. “You can’t do one and not the other — because then nothing is ever going to work.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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