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Visceral Fat


QUESTION:

I have heard more and more comments about the poor health consequences of increased visceral fat.  What is visceral fat and why is it so bad?

ANSWER:

Visceral fat refers to the fat surrounding the vital organs of the body, such as the liver, kidneys, stomach, heart and intestines.  Although excess body fat anywhere in the body can be harmful, fat deposited around our internal organs is far more harmful than subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that is deposited on the outer parts of the body near the skin.  For example, excess fat in the hip and thigh region is subcutaneous and is therefore less harmful to our health than fat stored in the mid-section.  Visceral fat is associated with greater health risks such as increased levels of blood cholesterol, hypertension, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Decreasing visceral fat should be a primary health goal when undertaking a weight loss program.  Tracking changes in waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratios are useful measurements that can be used to indirectly assess visceral fat.  To minimize risk, females should have a waist circumference measuring less than 35 inches (88 cm) and males should aim for less than 40 inches (102 cm).

The good news is that lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and improving your diet can decrease all types of fat including visceral fat.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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