Northwest Health Winter 2012

Men's Health

The Middle Weight Problem

Disease risk goes up for men who carry extra weight around the belly.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

It may be referred to as a beer belly, belly fat, or a spare tire. But whatever term is used, the extra weight that some men carry around their girth is bad news for their health. Here's why: Fat tucked behind the abdominal wall may be more harmful than fat stored on the hips and thighs. This belly fat is associated with insulin resistance, a condition that contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Carrying too much belly fat may also contribute to the risk for developing heart disease, colon cancer, obesity, and arthritis. Males with widening waistlines who also smoke, do not exercise regularly, and have a family history of such conditions as premature heart disease, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar are at even greater risk for these diseases.

Why fat accumulates around the middle. John Gayman, MD, a family physician at Group Health Medical Centers Capitol Hill Campus, says experts aren't in agreement about why some men accumulate fat around the middle and others don't. However, genetics, hormonal influences, level of physical activity, and diet are all factors.

Age also contributes. As men get older, muscle mass diminishes. As a result, the rate at which the body burns calories slows down, contributing to those extra pounds morphing into love handles around the midsection. "We all lose some muscle mass with age, even if we have healthy habits," he notes.

How much is too much? A solid indicator of whether you're saddled with too much belly fat is if your waist exceeds 40 inches. "That places men at risk for earlier and greater suffering during their life span," says Dr. Gayman. There are, of course, always exceptions. "Some folks with large waists are relatively fit and some with small waists are not. So there are clearly many individual differences that influence risk for disease," he says.

It's also worth noting that even if you don't gain weight as you age, you still need to pay attention to your waistline. It's likely that you are losing muscle mass while increasing body fat, says Dr. Gayman. "It's important to make good dietary decisions. That, combined with moderate activity, will lead to a loss of body fat."

Getting rid of belly fat. When it comes to shedding the belly bulge, there's no magic bullet. You'll need to lose some weight, and that means burning more calories than you consume. And while being active is always an important part of maintaining good health, moderate activity alone is not likely to help you shed the pounds. It will, however, help you maintain weight loss and build muscle.

How many calories do you need to cut to lose that weight? "A 200-calorie deficit a day is equivalent to 22 pounds of weight loss in a year," says Dr. Gayman.

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