The Risks of Belly Fat
Lose belly fat to reduce your risks for heart disease, cancer, and more.
Belly Fat: Men's vs. Women's Risks
Men tend to collect more belly fat than women, and it starts early in life.
"In adolescence and postadolescence, men start collecting abdominal
fat," Kuller tells WebMD. "It's one of the reasons men have more
coronary disease than women."
In one study, men with excess belly fat and a large waist were most at risk
for what researchers call "all-cause mortality" -- early death from any
cause. And because belly fat can trigger cardiovascular problems, a large belly
has also been linked to erectile dysfunction in men over age 60.
Women tend to be protected before menopause, when their fat tends to collect
on the buttocks and thighs. That type of fat may protect women from heart
damage, research suggests. The below-the-waist fat cells are believed to
produce a hormone that fights some of the heart-damaging effects of belly
At menopause, however, women's fat tends to settle in the belly, most likely
the effect of lower levels of estrogen, Kuller explains. That abdominal fat is
much more dangerous than buttocks fat -- greatly increasing a woman's risk of
death from heart disease, studies show.
- A woman is nearly five times more likely to die of heart disease if she has
both a big waist and a high level of fats in her blood, according to one Danish
- Women are twice as likely to need gallstone surgery if they have a large
- Women may also have trouble getting pregnant if their belly is larger than
their hips, a condition known as central obesity.
- Women are at one-third higher risk of breast cancer if they have excess
belly fat, one study shows. In fact, several types of cancer -- breast cancer,
uterine, cervix, colon, kidney, and pancreas -- have been linked with
Here's what happens: As fat cells break down, chemicals released "act as
very powerful cell-proliferating agents," Kuller tells WebMD. "This may
be why obesity is a risk factor for various cancers... because it stimulates
cancer cells to proliferate more rapidly."
Kuller believes that breast cancer risk is due more to a woman's overall
body fat -- not just belly fat.
"There is substantial evidence that body fat causes the body to produce
more estrogen than necessary," Kuller says. "Obesity is probably the
No. 1 risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer, especially
estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer."