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Can Your Beer Belly or Dad Bod Hurt Your Health?

You may joke about your dad bod or beer belly, but danger may be lurking under that spare tire. Learn more about how fat in your midsection can hurt your health.

Updated August 24, 2020

By Robert Barrucco, DO, Cardiologist, Virtua Cardiology – William G. Rohrer Center - Voorhees

Dad bod. Beer belly. Spare tire. Men’s midsections have long had nicknames that fuel the jokes of late-night, talk-show hosts. But, behind the humor, danger lurks.

There are two kinds of fat. Subcutaneous fat—the kind you can pinch between your fingers and protrudes over your belt—may be an indication you need to lose weight.

More concerning is visceral fat, which lies deep inside your body and surrounds your internal organs. Large amounts of it can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers.

Location matters

Fat isn't a passive substance. Research suggests that fat cells, particularly those in the abdomen, are biologically active. Like a gland, fat produces hormones and other chemicals that affect your health.

Visceral fat pumps immune system chemicals called cytokines into your bloodstream. Cytokines increase inflammation throughout your body, raise your cholesterol, and affect your cells' ability to respond properly to insulin.

So how do you know if you have too much belly fat?

  • Stand and wrap a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
  • Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you.
  • Relax, exhale, and check the number. Resist the urge to suck in your stomach.
  • If your waist is greater than 40 inches, you have too much belly fat.

How to banish your belly fat

The good news is the same tried-and-true methods that promote overall weight loss—eating better and exercising more—can banish belly fat, too. Try these strategies to slim down:

  • Eat a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit saturated fats.
  • Reduce your portion sizes.
  • Cut back on booze. Limit drinking to two alcoholic beverages per day if you’re age 64 or younger, and one alcoholic drink per day if you’re older. Of course, drinking water is always best.
  • Sit less. Break up time at your desk by moving once per hour—try walk breaks around the block or office.
  • Crank up your workouts. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity, and strength training at least twice a week. If you have heart problems or a chronic disease, talk with your health care provider before starting an exercise program.

Visceral fat may be out of sight, but don’t let it be out of mind. Losing belly fat takes effort, but you can win the battle of the bulge.

A Virtua primary care physician can recommend a diet and exercise program to help you shed those unwanted pounds. Call 888-847-8823 to make an appointment.