December 25th, 2008
09:30 AM ET

Is belly fat more dangerous to our health?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Sydney, Fort Wayne, Indiana

"I heard that having a potbelly is the worst type of fat to have. Any truth to that?"


Thanks for the question, Sydney. There’s been a lot of research trying to determine whether abdominal fat is, in fact, different from fat in other areas of our body. The answer is yes. We now know belly fat is the most dangerous type to have because it’s actually more biologically active, which causes calcium build-up in our arteries. This is significant because often people in a normal BMI range are still carrying extra weight in their stomachs but may not realize they’re at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Also, research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people with belly fat have a higher risk of dying compared to their peers without a spare tire.

So now the question is how do you figure out whether you’re at risk? Instead of just looking at the number on the scale, keep track of something known as your waist-to-hip ratio. Here’s how to do it: Measure the circumference around your belly button and then around your hips. You want your waist measurement to be smaller than your hips and thighs. The smaller the better. In the study I mentioned, researchers say a 2-inch increase in waist circumference raises mortality risk by 17 percent in men and 13 percent in women, regardless of BMI.

On a positive note, stomach fat is really the easiest to lose. Making a few tweaks to your diet routine and more importantly, if you get moving, you’ll notice your stomach fat slim down in no time at all. Exercise is still the best way to maintain long-term healthy weight. Try to fit in some sort of daily activity. Don't have an hour? No problem. Split up activities into small amounts throughout your day and reap the same benefits. Also, if you have weight to lose, the worst thing you can do is stop eating. The best way to get your metabolism moving and lose weight is to eat frequently - small meals every four to five hours. Also, never skip breakfast. Studies show people who eat breakfast lose more weight and burn more calories than those who do not.

So bottom line, Sydney, pay attention to not only how much you weigh, but where the fat is settling in on your body.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.