Muffin tops, a spare tire, beer belly - whatever you want to call it, excessive belly fat (particularly "visceral" or deep tissue fat) is linked to an increased risk of health problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia. Even a little bit of extra weight around the middle can create problems with the circulatory system resulting in high blood pressure and other diseases.
In the past, medical professionals thought that obesity was good for bone health and that it might protect the body from osteoporosis. Basically the theory held that larger bodies meant bigger, stronger bones. However, a new study conducted by a team from Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital found that the opposite is true, that bigger bones in obese individuals are actually weaker, and the existence of belly fat, particularly visceral fat, might even increase the risk of osteoporosis.
The study looked at 50 obese premenopausal women and examined their bodies with computerized tomography (CT) which can discriminate between superficial fat just under the skin and visceral fat surrounding the organs. Bone marrow fat and bone-mineral density were also examined.
Significant results indicated that women with more visceral fat also had more bone marrow fat and a lower bone-mineral density, as compared to those women with a higher degree of subcutaneous fat. Researchers have yet to determine why the existence of visceral fat appears to have this effect, but suggest that it could be related to the secretion of certain hormones or other substances that cause bone loss.
The outcome is "shocking," said Dr. Miriam Bredella, lead researcher and assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School. "Obese women at 30 should have totally normal bones." She indicated that prior studies on fat and osteoporosis examined weight or body mass index (BMI) - not particular types of fat.
"We know that obesity is a major public health problem," stated Bredella. "Now we know that abdominal obesity needs to be included as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone loss."
Deep tissue fat is becoming a leading health concern in the United States. This research adds to a large number of other studies that explore health problems due to the existence of visceral fat. Future research from the same Harvard team will look at the relationship between visceral fat and osteoporosis among men.