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Big Belly? Big Problem.

Big Belly? Big Problem.

byNik Abraham, MD, North Oaks Cardiology Clinic and North Oaks Multispecialty Group

Pot belly. Beer belly. Muffin top. Spare tire. Whatever you call that extra fat around your waistline, it’s certain to be a threat to your heart’s health.

Being overweight can affect your health in many ways, but the effect on your heart is among the most serious. According to the American Heart Association(AHA), people with high levels of belly fat face higher risks for heart disease and other serious problems, like stroke and high blood pressure—even diabetes. The problem is widespread among Americans. The AHA reports that up to 70 percent of adults are either overweight or obese, meaning they are 20 percent or more above an ideal weight.

The location of your fat can make a difference to your risk of heart disease. People with excess fat in their belly areas—or the “apple” shape—have a greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease than people who carry their weight in their hips and thighs—the “pear” shape.

One way to see if you are at risk of heart problems is to measure your waist with a tape measure. For women, if your waist comes in at more than 35 inches, even if your weight is normal, you are at risk. For men, the magic number is 40 inches. It boils down to the fact that a big waistline puts you in jeopardy of experiencing many health problems.

Subcutaneous fat, or fat beneath the skin, is one of the two types of fat. While your body needs a moderate amount of subcutaneous fat to be healthy, too much of it can be bad. The good news is that subcutaneous fat is usually easier to shed.

But appearances can be deceiving. Even skinny people can have unhealthy “hidden” fat or visceral fat. It is located deep in the torso, wrapping itself around your internal organs. This type of fat is more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, and is harder to lose.

Carrying visceral fat is a key indicator of metabolic syndrome, a family of health problems that can lead to fatal heart disease, including high blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

Whatever your shape, keep a close eye on these measures:

Blood Pressure

Your goal should be to keep your blood pressure at less than 120/80. When blood pressure is higher, your heart has to work harder. By losing weight, eating less salt and exercising, you can lower your blood pressure.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

Try to keep your LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dL (or whatever your doctor recommends for you). Blood cholesterol levels rise if your body makes too much cholesterol or if you eat too much saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

Higher HDL levels can have a positive affect on your heart health. Pump up your HDL by maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and exercising regularly.


Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body uses for energy. A high triglyceride level can be caused by obesity or poorly controlled diabetes. High triglycerides increase your risk for heart disease. A normal level is 150 or lower.

It is true that genes may play a part in our shape and our weight—but you don’t have to surrender to obesity. Shedding the fat can help you avoid serious health problems.

Keep your belly issues in control by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. For more information about obesity’s impact on your body or other cardiovascular conditions, see your primary health care provider or make an appointment with the physicians of North Oaks Cardiology Clinic in Hammond at (985) 230-7350 or North Oaks Multispecialty Group in Livingston at (225) 686-4960.