You may have seen ads flashing off to the side of a web page while you searched online or caught a commercial on TV — they all promise to melt away belly fat.
While logically you know there isn't a magic solution, it is still intriguing and alluring to find an easier way to get rid of the excess in the middle.
Steve Belano, personal training coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, says the proximity of the fat to the organs and closer to the heart tends to be more dangerous in terms of mortality.
While men tend to be the ones carrying bigger bellies, Belano says it is also an issue for women. Studies have shown that cortisol can cause an increase in belly fat because of stress — another risk factor to health.
By the numbers
Dr. Eric Jacobs, strategic director, pharmacoepidemiology, for the American Cancer Society, conducted a study last year looking at the correlation between waist size and disease. The study focused on men and women age 50 and older.
While weight and body mass index have been studied, less is known about the health effects of waist size, Jacobs says.
The results may surprise some. Those with a larger waist, no matter what their overall weight, had a greater risk for cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems.
"Research over the past several years has shown that while people who are heavier overall tend to have bigger waist sizes, a larger waist size carries additional health risks at any weight level," Jacobs says.
"An important finding was that a larger waist size was linked with higher mortality at every level of body mass index (an index of weight relative to height). A larger waist size was associated with higher mortality even among people considered to be normal weight for their height," Jacobs says.
What's with the middle?
While everyone is different, for some the weight seems to settle right in the middle causing the pear shape or bellies to hang over belts.
It's easy to write it off as a family trait, but that may not be the issue. While genes may play a part, lifestyle is more often to blame for fat gathering near the waist, according to Jacobs.
"Waist sizes in the U.S. population have increased dramatically in recent years. While our study was not designed to look at the causes of gains in waist size, other studies have consistently shown that waist size is linked with physical inactivity. Some studies have also suggested that diets high in refined grains, like white bread, may contribute to gains in waist size," Jacobs says.
Are you wondering how you measure up? The study categorizes large waists as 47 inches or larger for men and 42 inches or more for women.
While most people would prefer to click on the belly fat ad online and find a pill or drink to bring that waist in line, Belano says the facts haven't changed — there is no such thing as spot reduction for fat.
There is some good news though. Abdominal exercise may tighten and tone the muscles underneath the fat and as a result there can be inches taken off someone's waist size. But, the fat is still a concern.
"The best way is to burn calories with a well-rounded exercise program to burn more calories more evenly, regardless of where the fat is," Belano says.
For those who haven't exercised in awhile, Belano says it may be helpful to take a class or seek a few sessions with a fitness professional. The Fitness and Wellness Center's average clients are 49 and older and Belano says there are quite a few clients who come in doing the old calisthenics or exercises from the '80s.
Exercise and a sensible diet, the same recommendations for any weight loss, are true too for belly fat.
Belano suggest Pilates may be a good form of exercise for those looking to conquer fat and waist size. Pilates targets abdominals and the lower back for core strength and good instructors will teach participants how to activate the core muscles. A strong core can help protect the back, improve balance and posture and whittle the waist size.
While there is a science behind the fat burners that are advertised and they can work, Belano says there are so many types out there with varying ingredients and they could interact with medications. He recommends sticking with tried and true methods like diet and exercise.
Jacobs suggests those concerned with belly fat begin to look not just at the number on the scale, but the number when measuring around the waist.
"Older adults may lose muscle mass as they age, so gains in waist size could happen even without noticeable gains showing up on the bathroom scale," he says. "So even if you haven't had a big weight gain, if you notice your waist size increasing, that's an important sign it's time to start eating better and exercising more. In addition, even if your weight is considered "normal" for your height, keeping your waist size in check is important for maintaining your health."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times