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Men, regardless of age can have a beer or pot belly. But for most women, belly fat is a social eyesore that they would enjoy doing away with at any cost. Having fat deposited in their tummy does not make them to look very attractive and even hurts their social life.
Though the term might sound dated, “middle-age spread” is a greater concern than ever. As women go through their middle years, their proportion of fat to body weight tends to increase, more than it does in men. Especially at menopause, extra pounds tend to amass around the waist area. Even women who don’t actually gain weight may still gain extra inches at the waist.
All fat is not created equal. Unsightly as it is, fat deposited right under the skin is not as dangerous to overall health as the fat deep in the belly surrounding vital organs. But a big waistline or pot belly is not an inevitable fact of postmenopausal life, affluence or ageing.
There is mounting evidence that individuals with big stomachs, or what many people refer to as beer or pot bellies, are more prone to developing diabetes and heart disease. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
It is well known that overall obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Not all obese people develop these diseases, of course. Obese people who have more abdominal fat (an apple shape) are at a higher risk than people who store excess fat in their hips and thighs (a pear shape).
Abdominal fat is associated with fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. The syndrome is diagnosed when someone has at least three of the following: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased levels of sugar in the blood.
Excess fat at the waist has been linked to several other disorders as well. A study in the September 2006 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in women, a large waist was correlated with diabetes risk — even when BMI was in the normal range (18.5–24.9). A European study of nearly 500,000 women and men found that, for women, a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.85 was associated with a 52 per cent increase in colorectal cancer risk.
A larger waist measurement also predicts the development of high blood pressure, regardless of total body fat, according to a 10-year study of Chinese adults published in the August 2006 American Journal of Hypertension. Finally, a study presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience found that older people with bigger bellies had worse memory and less verbal fluency, even after taking diabetes into account.
Why do individuals develop beer or pot belly? Beyond gender (men are more prone to belly fat than women) and genetics, one of the leading causes of belly fat is increased insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the body no longer responds to insulin at an appropriate level, leading the body to release ever-increasing amounts of the hormone in an attempt to get the muscles, fat and liver to take it up.
Scientists found that the most common reason why insulin resistance occurs is diet, especially diets high in fat and refined sugar and low in fibre. In a study featuring both healthy and overweight people, diets high in fat caused decreased insulin sensitivity, even in the otherwise healthy participants.
When an individual eats a high-fat diet, their blood becomes loaded with free fatty acids, which either ends up in the muscles or is stored as fat.
Stress is another factor which can induce the body to store more fat as belly fat. It plays a factor in insulin resistance and increases the release of free fatty acids from the fat, giving the muscles an alternative fuel. While insulin resistance may lead to an increased tendency to store belly fat, belly fat itself is a leading cause of insulin resistance.
In women, hormones are also involved in where fats are stored. At menopause, oestrogen production decreases and the ratio of androgen (male hormones present in small amounts in women) to oestrogen increases, a shift that is been linked in some medical experts to increased abdominal fat after menopause.Since abdominal fat can be a problem despite a normal BMI, health assessments should include both Body Mass Index and waist circumference.
The relationship between waist circumference and health risk varies by ethnic group. For example, in Asian women, a waist circumference above 31.5 inches is considered a health risk.
What is the normal waist range for Nigerian women? According to Dr Abiodun Adeoye, a consultant cardiologist, University College Hospital
(UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, irrespective of the gender, the waist line measurement should not exceed 100cm.
Dr Adeoye stated: “Although the value for waistline differs based on the gender, the value for women is expected to be slightly higher than in men. But whatever it is, once the measurement is more than 100cm, there is a great chance of problems such as cardiovascular diseases.
“Once the tummy is getting bigger, one has a multiplied fold increase for cardiovascular diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. Once there is uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes, then other diseases such as stroke and heart attack will come.”
Dr Adeoye declared that people should not link affluence with pot belly as the wider a person’s waistline, the shorter the person’s lifespan would be. He stated: “For us cardiologists and physicians, pot or beer belly is not a good sign. Even as medical doctors, we also work on our bodies so that we do not end up with big tummies.”
Also, Dr Fayefere Abiesuku, a consultant endocrinologist, Department of Chemical pathology, UCH, Ibadan, explained that the waist circumference was an indirect measure of fat deposit within the abdomen. He declared: “Waist circumference will show if a person’s body fat is very high. Of course, the chances are very high that such will have a high cholesterol level and this can obviously lead to heart-related diseases.”
“A person with a high fat deposit in the waist area also stands a higher risk of fat plucking blood vessels. They form plagues, which plaster the blood vessels, harden the blood vessels and clog it.”
Dr Abiesuku, while attributing cases of pot or beer belly to age, lack of exercises and sedentary living, said sometimes, big waistline in women arose from weak abdominal muscles.Share