According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 67% of Australian adults were either overweight or obese in 2017 -2018. This is a total of 12.5 million people. In the same year, almost 25% of Australian children aged between five and 17 were also overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese can cause serious health problems, so it’s important to keep track of your weight and if necessary, make changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Understanding fat storage in the body
Our body stores fat when we consume too many calories and don’t do enough physical activity. To a small extent, genetics determine where this fat gets stored in your body. Generally, most of the fat in your body is stored underneath the skin. This is known as subcutaneous fat. This is the fat you’re able to feel when you pinch your skin. It’s also the fat you might be able to see on your arms and legs. Women tend to have more subcutaneous fat than men.
The other type of fat in your body is known as hidden or visceral fat. This is fat that’s stored deep inside your belly, and around organs like your liver and intestines. It’s the fat that tends to make your stomach stick out. It’s possible to be thin and still be carrying too much visceral fat.
Why is visceral fat dangerous?
Carrying too much visceral fat is harmful for our health because it increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease. It’s also a sign of metabolic syndrome which is a collection of disorders including high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance. Together these disorders increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Too much visceral fat has also been linked with an increase in risk of cancer, dementia, and osteoarthritis.
While researchers don’t have all the answers yet, excess visceral fat seems to change the balance of hormones in our body. Visceral fat is known as an active fat because it not only stores energy, but also interferes with how our hormones function. Visceral fat cells release adipokines which trigger inflammation and this results in more fatty acids releasing into the bloodstream. Subcutaneous fat, or the fat under our skin, is known as passive fat because it stores these fatty acids within itself and doesn’t release them into the blood.
How do you know if you have too much visceral fat?
- 1. Measure your waist
Measuring your waist is one of the more accurate ways to tell if you’re carrying too much visceral fat. There are some limitations to this technique, including if you’re pregnant or if you have a medical condition that causes your stomach to enlarge.
If you’re an adult woman, your risk of disease increases if you have a waist measurement of 80cm or more. Your risk increases greatly if your waist measurement is over 88cm. If you’re an adult man, your risk increases when you reach 94cm, and increases greatly if your waist measurement is 102cm or more.
Healthdirect Australia suggest following these steps to get an accurate waist measurement:
- 1. Place a tape measure directly onto your skin, or over no more than one layer of light clothing.
- 2. Measure halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone (roughly in line with your belly button)
- 3. Breathe out normally, making sure the tape isn’t squeezing your skin, and take the measurement
- 2. Work out your body mass index (BMI)
Your body mass index uses both your height and weight to provide an estimate of your total body fat. BMI also has some limitations as it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle.
You can use the BMI Calculator at Healthdirect to work out your body mass index score. You can then see where your score fits in the BMI weight ranges:
- Under 18.5: underweight
- 18.5 – 24.9: healthy weight range
- 25.0 – 29.9: overweight
- 30.0 and above: obese
How can you get rid of visceral fat?
To get rid of visceral fat, you’ll need to make changes to both your diet and exercise routine.
Moderate-intensity exercise seems to be particularly important for losing visceral fat. Both aerobic and strength exercise will reduce visceral fat. Exercising can also help to prevent visceral fat from returning.
To reduce your visceral fat, you should aim to:
- exercise for at least 30 minutes each day
- reduce sugary drinks
- stop smoking
- get enough sleep
- eat a healthy diet
Eat a healthy diet
You should aim to eat foods from the five food groups each day:
- vegetables and legumes (beans)
- grains and cereals
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts seeds
- milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternatives
You should also limit the following foods:
- sugary foods and drinks
- fried foods
For more information about what to eat, read the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified Health Care Professional.