Hidden Fat Could Mean Heart Disease Risk

Fat Deep Inside Belly May Be a Sign of Metabolic Syndrome

From the WebMD Archives

April 11, 2005 -- If you're one of the increasingly few Americans who don't get depressed after stepping on a scale, don't think you're off the hook about fat.

Even people of normal weight can have fat folded deep inside their belly, raising their risk of heart disease and diabetes from a condition calledmetabolic syndrome.

Even if a person's weight is normal, doctors shouldn't discount the risk of heart disease, say the researchers. In other words, fat can fool the scale.

When Fat Hides

What did the scale miss, and why does it matter? It all comes down to metabolic syndrome, says the new study.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of abnormalities that greatly increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It affects about one in five U.S. adults (22%) and 42% of older men and women, and is becoming increasingly common.

People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following factors:

  • Waist circumference of 40 inches or more in men and 35 inches or more in women
  • High blood triglycerides, a blood fat, of 150 milligrams/deciliter or more
  • HDL ("good") cholesterol of less than 40 milligrams/deciliter in men and less than 50 milligrams/deciliter in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or greater
  • Blood sugar of 110 milligrams/deciliter or more

A big girth is an obvious risk factor. But skinnier people can also have fat tucked deep in their midsection without showing "love handles."

Searching for Fat

The study included more than 3,000 adults in their 70s. All were screened for metabolic syndrome. They also got medical imaging that revealed hidden fat.

Belly fat was linked to metabolic syndrome, and not just in obese or overweight people. Participants with normal weight -- and hidden abdominal fat -- were in the same boat.

Overall, 39% of the entire group had metabolic syndrome. Women had higher rates than men; so did those who were obese or overweight.

Though metabolic syndrome was more common in overweight (about 40%) and obese (about 60%) people, it still occurred in 12% of normal-weight men and 22% of normal-weight women.


Thigh Surprise

Fat's location was important.

Around the waist and inside the abdomen, it raised the risk of metabolic syndrome. Not so for the legs.

Fat in the thighs was actually associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, according to the researchers, who included Bret Goodpaster, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Burning Belly Fat

No need for high-tech measurements to reduce belly fat.

Exercise, or exercise plus a healthy diet, worked for women with type 2 diabetes in a recent study. Diet alone didn't do the job; exercise was a must, researchers reported in March issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 11, 2005


SOURCES: Goodpaster, B. Archives of Internal Medicine, April 11, 2005; vol 165: pp 777-783. News release, JAMA/Archives. WebMD Medical News: "Exercise a Must for Losing Deep Belly Fat."

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