Just as the degree of obesity is important in determining health risk, so is the location of the fat. The “apple” shaped body, carrying fat around the mid-section is associated with greater health risks, in particular type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, and early mortality. The reason for this is that researchers have discovered that visceral (belly) fat actually produces hormones and chemicals that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance, and these factors are associated with chronic disease.
While we tend to think of men as having the apple-shaped body and women having the pear- shaped body, body fat distribution in women changes with age. Below age 30 women tend to carry their fat predominantly around their hips and thighs, as cellulite. This fat is associated with the higher estrogen levels women have during the childbearing years and it can be worsened by inactivity, poor circulation and dietary factors. Nobody likes cellulite, but this fat does not carry the same risk as that gained around the mid-section. As women age they have a greater tendency to gain fat around their belly. This change in body fat distribution is also tied to hormonal changes that occur with aging, along with a number of lifestyle and genetic factors.
To see whether your belly is putting you at risk, get out a tape measure and place it around your waist (at the navel). For women, a waist more than 80 cm (32 inches) is associated with increased health risk and a waist of more than 88 cm (35 inches) is associated with substantially increased risk.
If you fall into one of these risk categories, don’t despair. In order to lose weight, women can turn to safe and effective ways to trim their midsection. Getting regular physical activity, eating a healthful diet, not smoking, controlling blood sugar levels, and balancing your hormones are key to improving your body shape and composition and optimizing your health.