Some people take pride in a big belly.
HOMER SIMPSON: Woo hoo! Look at that blubber fly!
Others work hard to get rid of it.
JANE FONDA: We’re really going to blast the upper and lower parts of the abdominals—(leading crunches) up, up, and down, woo!
But all of us with protruding stomachs have one thing in common – we’re raising our risk of serious health problems.
Here’s the thing: not all fat is alike.
Studies show you’d be better off with a tush or thunder thighs than a wide middle.
That’s because the fat cells there are active.
KASHYAP: As it develops, it starts producing bad hormones—hormones that are toxic to your body.
Belly fat researcher Sangeeta Kashyap is an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
She explains that fat cells in the belly aren’t just taking up space; they’re hormone factories.
These hormones promote inflammation and insulin resistance and these things link belly fat, more so than other fat, to diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, even premature death.
KASHYAP: People who are apples—who have the belly fat—will have higher levels of blood sugar, higher cholesterol, high blood pressure, at a younger age than people who don’t have that body build—who distribute their body fat evenly.
The danger even threatens people with a pretty normal weight. It’s all about distribution.
KASHYAP: We see patients who might be just slightly overweight but all of their fat—60 percent of their fat—is all in their middle section.
Heart doctors see the long-term effects of belly fat all the time.
Dr. Grace Cater is a cardiologist at MetroHealth:
CATER: It’s really an issue that now we are dealing with, and it’s really a major health problem.
Fighting belly fat gets harder as you get older.
Just ask Joyce Schneider who is 60 and lives in Parma.
SCHNEIDER: My waist was getting bigger, I was getting a midriff bulge, which I never had…
She says friends her age complain of the same thing:
SCHNEIDER: Your rump disappears and it heads up to the stomach. I always think that’s why they sell the elastic-waist pants.
Certain people are just unlucky, too: Dr. Kashyap says belly fat runs in families.
KASHYAP: A lot of this is genetic. There are genes that control how our body takes up fat, where it’s stored. You know, you’ll hear people say, my mother wasn’t that overweight but she had a big gut.
There’s a lot of good research out there about why this is bad, but the reality is the gut can be hard to shake.
The Clinic’s Sangeeta Kashyap might use a drug with her diabetic patients who have belly fat - a class of meds that work like internal liposuction.
They’ll suck out fat from deep in stomach where it’s nestled near the organs.
But the drug doesn’t make the fat go away; it just causes it to go someplace else in the body where it’s less dangerous.
So people don’t lose weight on the drug, but they do get healthier.
KASHYAP: People’s diabetes is better, their blood pressure is reduced, their triglycerides are reduced so overall they’re metabolically healthier.
If only all of us could just “take a pill” for belly fat. Most people will have to deal with it the old fashioned way – diet and exercise.
Here’s one encouraging tip: build muscle – and it doesn’t have to be with sit-ups; build muscle anywhere on your body and it’ll help.
Bottom line here? Go with Jane Fonda instead of Homer Simpson on this one…
(Jane Fonda workout video plays: “Slow squat to the right, no arms and up…”)