A comprehensive study from Uppsala University, with over 325,000 participants, shows that deep belly fat is a major contributing risk factor for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The study also found that deep belly fat is a larger risk factor in women compared to men. Moreover, the scientists investigated how our genes affect the accumulation of fat and present a new, simpler method to estimate the amount of deep belly fat.
Visceral fat, fat stored around the organs in the belly and around the intestines, is known to be associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the new study, the scientists took it one step further and showed, using genetic data, that there is an actual causal relationship between visceral fat and increased risk of diabetes, heart attack, hypertension and high cholesterol.
Visceral fat more risky for women than men
Adding an extra two pounds of visceral fat can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes more than seven times in women, while the same amount of fat accumulation only increases the risk a little more than two times in men.
The scientists also found that the risk of disease increases most rapidly in people with small or moderate amounts of deep belly fat, but that it does not increase nearly as much if a person with large amounts of fat in the abdomen puts on additional fat.
The scientists also found more than two hundred different genes influence the amount of visceral fat. Among these, there was a large proportion of genes that are linked to our behaviour, which suggests that the main contributor to abdominal obesity is, after all, that we eat too much and exercise too little. However, there are individual differences in how visceral fat is distributed in the body. A person who appears not to be overweight may still have a harmful amount of visceral fat.
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