Why Belly Fat Is Risky Even if Your Weight Is Normal

Why Belly Fat Is Risky Even if Your Weight Is Normal

(Last Updated On: April 18, 2019)

Why Belly Fat Is Risky Even if Your Weight Is NormalYou step on the scale and are pleased when it shows you weigh in at ideal body weight for your height. That’s reassuring, but if you’re carrying too much fat around the middle – the dreaded belly fat, your health risks may be no different than someone who’s obese. According to a new study, where you store your fat matters when it comes to your health.

Belly Fat, Fat Storage and the Risk for Health Problems

The study involved almost 13,000 adults of all ages who were part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The average age of the participants was 44 years old and included an almost equal number of men and women. Researchers divided the participants into groups based on BMI and waist-to-hip ratio and followed them for 14 years. They were looking at the rate of death in each group and their incidence of heart death.

The results? Adults who had a high waist-to-hip ratio had double the death rate and a 2.75 times greater risk of heart disease relative to those with a normal waist-to-hip ratio – even if they had a normal body weight. The fat you carry around your middle counts in terms of health even if you’re not overweight or obese.

Why Waist and Belly Fat is So Harmful

There are two types of fat – subcutaneous fat that’s more superficial and fat called visceral fat that lies deeper in the pelvic cavity and isn’t as visible. It’s this type of fat that’s linked to health problems like heart disease. One sign that you have too much visceral fat is a high waist-to-hip ratio. In women, a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.8 or below is considered healthy, while in men a ratio of greater than 1.0 is a risk factor for health problems. To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, measure your waist circumference at the narrowest part of your waistline. Then measure your hip circumference at the widest part of your buttocks. Divide waist circumference by hip circumference to get your ratio.

Why is Waist-to-Hip Ratio Such an Important Measurement of Health and Risk?

Research shows that visceral fat isn’t just a storage organ. Visceral fat functions much like an endocrine gland by producing chemicals that increase inflammation and contribute to insulin resistance. This low-grade inflammation and reduced insulin sensitivity increase the risk of health problems like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Decreasing Visceral Fat and Improving Waist-to-Hip Ratio

The best way to reduce visceral abdominal fat and improve your waist-to-hip ratio is through exercise and diet. Are you eating a diet rich in processed carbs? That’s part of the problem. Reduce processed carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed and increase insulin levels and replace them with fiber-rich carbohydrates from whole food sources like vegetables and whole grains.

What about fats? Eliminate trans-fat from your diet, reduce saturated fat from dairy and animal products. Replace them with healthier fat sources like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. In terms of exercise, high-intensity exercise is best for shedding visceral belly fat as opposed to more sustained moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. If you’re doing moderate-intensity cardio, throw in some high-intensity intervals where you raise your heart rate to 85% to 95% of your maximal heart rate for short periods of time.

The Bottom Line?

Even if you’re normal weight, your waist-to-hip ratio matters. Measure it and make sure your ratio doesn’t put you at higher risk for health problems like heart disease. If so, it’s time to make some changes. Do it for your health.



Diabetes. April 2007. Vol. 56, No. 4.

Science Daily. “Normal Weight Individuals with Belly Fat at Highest CVD Risk”

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov;40(11):1863-72.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Why It’s Important to Know Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio

Which is Unhealthier Being Obese or Being Physically Inactive?

Body Weight and Health: Why the Number on the Scale Is Deceptive

Why You’re Lean but Still Have Too Much Belly Fat

A Better Way to Measure Body Fat?

5 thoughts on “Why Belly Fat Is Risky Even if Your Weight Is Normal

  1. Dear Cathe,

    I am very upset with your picture of the woman pinching belly fat. Clearly this model does not a real issue with fat – she looks generally slender and fit. Perhaps, in fact, she is a normal healthy weight compared with most models. Nevertheless you imply us readers that she has LIFE THREATENING levels of fat.

    Once again the industry sends out the message to girls of all ages that a what would look to the naked eye as healthy person must lose more weight. Poor girls – another visual message to cut down their self-esteem. Why do you and the health industry do it??? To make money – sell more videos.

    If you want to talk about life threatening levels of fat than choose a model that reflects your message. Don’t choose a model that once again plays mind games with young women.

  2. The picture you’re referring to is a closeup of a woman of normal weight grabbing her belly fat and is the best picture we saw to illustrate what this blog post is about. This article is about the dangers of belly fat even in people of “normal” weight and hence we feel the picture used is appropriate. Sure, starving yourself to obtain an unrealistic body image is sadly a problem for many, but a much larger problem for women is type 2 diabetes and heart problems largely caused by too much visceral abdominal fat. The picture we selected was the most interesting of all the stock photos we looked at and brought the most focus to the subject matter – belly fat can be a problem even in normal weight people too. Being “skinny” doesn’t mean you’re healthy. To be healthy you need to have the right balance of muscle and fat in your body and this what this article addresses.

  3. In reply to Lisa, You are of course over reacting. As Cathe states its just a representation. I am in the medical field and scan people daily and see the viseral fat! Have you heard of skinny fat? People can be out of shape and yet thin. To me the model is not thin if she can grab that much of her abdomen! I am upset with your comment. This pic doesnt represent the models on the runway, who mostly by the way are under 21!

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