The Health Risks of Abdominal Obesity

Abdominal obesity refers to the presence of excess fat in the abdominal area. The abdomen is the part of your body between your chest and your pelvis. Those who are "apple-shaped" tend to store excess body fat around their stomach and abdomen. Abdominal obesity is often referred to as "belly fat."

Mature overweight man sitting in armchair
Michael Greenberg / Getty Images

Also Known As

  • Belly fat
  • Central obesity
  • Central adiposity
  • Intra-abdominal fat

Example: Abdominal obesity raises the risk of some health problems, including type 2 diabeteshypertension, and heart disease.​

What Is Abdominal Obesity?

You may have heard the term "abdominal obesity" or "central adiposity" at your healthcare provider's office or on a medical show. The terms sound very complicated, but they are simply different ways of describing belly fat. If you carry too much fat around your belly, you have abdominal obesity.

So why does abdominal obesity matter? Because too much fat in your midsection may put you at greater risk for certain medical conditions than excess fat in your thighs or buttocks. Fat in your belly is sometimes called visceral fat and it surrounds important organs. Excess fat in the abdomen may put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease (heart disease). 

How to Measure 

There are different ways to measure and assess belly fat. Abdominal obesity can be measured at the healthcare provider's office. Your healthcare provider may use expensive scanning equipment to see exactly where fat is located in your belly. But those tests can be costly and may be inconvenient.

There are easier ways to measure abdominal obesity. Each method requires a flexible tape measure (like the ones used for sewing) and takes just minutes to perform.

Abdominal Circumference

 This method simply requires you to measure the size of your tummy. To get the number, wrap a tape measure around the widest part of your stomach, across your belly button. The tape measure should rest gently on your skin. Once the tape measure is positioned correctly, breathe in and then take the measurement on the exhale.

Now, compare your number to the measurements below that indicate abdominal adiposity. There are different numbers for men and women.

  • Men: A waist measurement greater than 40 inches
  • Women: A waist measurement greater than 35 inches

Waist to Hip Ratio

The way that your belly measurement compares to your hip measurement is another way to assess your risk for heart disease. To calculate your waist to hip ratio you'll start by measuring your abdominal circumference (above). Then measure your hips around the widest part. Now divide your waist size by your hip size to get your waist to hip ratio.

If you are a man, your chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke increases as the number rises above 0.95. For women, risk begins to rise when the number tops 0.85.

Can I Change It?

The best way to reduce abdominal obesity is to lose weight. Of course, as you slim down, you can't choose where on your body the weight loss will occur. So you may lose weight in your legs or hips and still keep some belly fat. But the weight reduction in your abdomen may help to improve your risk for heart disease.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how much weight you should lose to improve your health. Then take small steps to create lifelong changes to eat a healthy diet, exercise, decrease stress and improve your sense of well-being.

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