There are a few endeavors that are as daunting or nearly as challenging as trying to lose weight. This article is not necessarily about that. Neither is it about a revolutionary diet or an exercise routine that will whip you in shape in no time. Instead we will look at how weight impacts your health and why your body fat distribution or in other words why your shape might be more important than you think.
Not all fat is created equal
A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal showed that body fat distribution is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease even in people with a normal Body Mass Index. It was found that having excess abdominal fat, that is fat around the waist and stomach, increased the chances of dying from cardiovascular disease regardless of BMI. “There are several possible explanations for our findings,” writes the lead investigators. First and foremost, waist to hip ratio (which was used in combination with BMI, and other weight measurements) is a much clearer indication of how body fat is distributed. Waist to hip ratio is calculated by dividing the length of most narrow point of your waist (underneath your ribs) by the length of the widest point of your hips.
Based on your waist to hip ratio, you can either be apple shaped or pear shaped. Pear shaped individuals have a narrower waist and carry most of their weight around the hips and legs. On the contrary, apple shaped individuals have a wider waist and less fat around their hips and legs. Ideally, you want to have less fat around your waist and abdomen. This is because excess abdominal fat is linked to a host of conditions including insulin resistance, increased blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and adverse cholesterol. Having any one of these conditions significantly increases the risk of developing more serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke later in life.
Too Much Fat?
Contrary to what most people believe, body fat is not entirely bad. In fact it is important for proper functioning of the body. For starters, we need fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K. Consequently, having extremely low levels of body fat can easily lead to a deficiency in any of these vitamins, affecting health in the long term. Also, fat is an excellent shock absorber that protects us from physical injury. Finally, fat helps regulate body temperature – keeping us warm during cold spells or winter.
However, too much fat is not good. Excess body fat is a well-known risk factor for poor health and weight related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Hence, the need for assessing body fat. Of the techniques available, Body Mass Index (BMI) is perhaps the most commonly used and probably the one you are more familiar with. Even though BMI has long been regarded as the standard measurement for overall health, it does not depict a full picture of the health risks associated with weight and body fat. Instead, BMI merely provides a measurement of body fat based in your height and weight, and does not take into account how this fat is distributed.
Okay, now what?
Around the world, abdominal obesity is increasing at a faster rate than general obesity. This trend is especially worrying in men, who, although having a lower rate of general obesity than women, tend to have higher waist to hip ratios. The number of deaths due to weight related diseases is staggering. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 10 million people die prematurely each year due to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. Assessing body fat and understanding how it is distributed should by all means form part of any weight management plan. As far as reducing the risk for weight related diseases goes, BMI and waist to hip ratio provide a good indication of your overall health status. Moreover, they are body measurements that can be virtually carried out by anyone and thus should not be taken for granted.
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