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It’s not news that excess weight around the middle can contribute to a host of diseases. Often referred to as the “middle-age spread,” it has become an increasing concern. As women progress through those middle years, the proportion of fat to body weight increases, even more than it does in men. (It figures, right?) Menopause is the biggest culprit, as this is the time when extra pounds seem to find themselves right around that pesky midsection. Fat storage begins to locate in the upper body as opposed to the hips and thighs. (Thank goodness for big sweaters and winter coats!) Even those lucky ladies who do not gain weight may still gain extra inches around the waist.
Invariably, as those waistlines expand, the risk for health problems increases. Excess abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, has been attributed to certain metabolic problems, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes. It is also linked to breast cancer for women and the potential need for gall bladder surgery. Visceral fat, as opposed to the subcutaneous fat that you can readily grasp with your hand, rests within the abdominal region, padding the areas between the abdominal organs.
It has also been recently reported that having excess weight in the midsection can jeopardize bone health and increase a woman’s risk of osteoporosis. Previously, it was thought that obesity actually protected women against the disease, as the extra body fat seemed to afford protection against bone loss. (Not that I would willingly gain weight to support that theory!)
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a study of 50 premenopausal women who presented with a body mass index of 30. The doctors measured the bone marrow fat and bone mineral density of these women to ascertain their bone mass and loss.
Key to the research was their focus on the visceral fat, as they wanted to determine if such fat played a more pivotal role in the potential for developing osteoporosis than the subcutaneous fat.
In addition to genetics, diet and exercise contribute to the amount of visceral fat a body stores.