Americans keep getting bigger around the middle, and it’s definitely cause for concern. Abdominal obesity, also called central obesity, belly fat, beer belly or pot belly, is one of the most dangerous forms of obesity. Associated health risks include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and asthma. Abdominal obesity is also a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome. While the obesity statistics have been high in America for years, a recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the problem is now as dire as it’s ever been. Get ready for this: over half the U.S. population now has abdominal obesity. To be exact, 54.2 percent of Americans suffer from the condition – up from 46.4 percent about a decade ago. This is in spite of the fact that overall obesity levels have generally leveled off. Also, the average American waist size went from 37.6 inches in 1999 to 38.8 in 2011-2012.
What’s Causing All This?
A male has abdominal obesity when his waist circumference is greater than 40.2 inches. A woman is considered abdominally obese when her waist measures 34.6 inches or more. So why did we get this big in the last ten years? Unfortunately, the researchers who compiled the most recent data don’t exactly know. Some of the theorized causes include:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Poor sleep
- Certain medications
- Environmental pollutants
Of course, the most obvious answer is “lack of exercise.” But if this were the case, why would overall obesity levels stay the same instead of increasing during the same time period? According to Dr. Earl Ford, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s possible that a lack of exercise can cause fat to accumulate but not necessarily affect overall body weight due to the fact that fat is lighter than muscle.
Treating and Preventing Abdominal Obesity
Reducing abdominal fat is tricky because it includes both subcutaneous fat, which is fatty tissue just below the skin, as well as visceral fat, which is deep inside the abdomen and surrounds internal organs. While subcutaneous fat is troublesome cosmetically, the visceral fat presents even more of a health risk. So, in order to reduce visceral fat and curb the disturbing abdominal obesity trend, Americans need to know the following prevention strategies:
- Exercise every day – According to Harvard Medical School, people should get at least 30 (and more like 60) minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Simply getting regular exercise can prevent and even decrease visceral fat.
- Control your portions – Simply eating less when having a meal can prevent abdominal obesity. Talk to your doctor about recommended caloric intake, though. If you reduce your portions too much, you could actually end up making things worse. For specific numbers, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Pay attention to carbs – Do away with simple carbohydrates such as sugary drinks, white bread and refined grain pasta. Complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits and veggies should be ok in moderation.
- Combined workout – Some studies indicate that resistance training can go a long way toward eliminating belly fat. Combine it with regular aerobic activity, and abdominal obesity can be effectively prevented.
- Forget sit-ups – The notion that belly fat can be decreased by exercising the abdomen through sit-ups or crunches is a myth. Abdominal obesity can only be reversed through diet changes combined with full-body aerobic activity and strength training.
- Reduce stress – Stress can wreak havoc on your eating habits. Also, the disruption of a hormone known as cortisol is often altered during periods of high stress, which can lead to fat accumulation in the abdomen. Check out the Mayo Clinic’s stress relief tips.
Abdominal Obesity: The Bottom Line
It takes a lot of time and dedication to eliminate belly fat. Contrary to what Internet ads might tell you, there is no “one weird trick” or “miracle skinny pill” to eliminate abdominal obesity. Prevention is the key: if you think you’re starting to get heavy in the mid-section, start following these tips immediately.