Abdominal adiposity ― or, as it’s sometimes called, sporting a beer belly ― has become a global pandemic, according to a paper published this week in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
In some developed countries ― including Iceland, New Zealand and the United States ― up to 90 percent of adult males and 80 percent of women were found to have the condition. In New Zealand and the U.S., more than 50 percent of children were found to have it as well.
Being “overfat,” as researchers call it, is a condition where the circumference of your waist measures more than half your height. It’s not the same thing as being overweight ― in fact, from a health perspective, it’s worse.
Excess body fat, especially abdominal fat, is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, increased morbidity and mortality, and reduced quality of life. Abdominal fat in particular is considered the unhealthiest form of excess body fat.
“Beer belly” is a bit of a misnomer, since alcohol doesn’t actually have anything to do with it ― the greatest risk factor for a protruding gut is age. Pronounced tummies tend to be more common among older people because as we age, our caloric needs go down, we frequently become less active, and gaining weight becomes easier. Also, as our hormone levels decline, we become more likely to store fat around the middle of our bodies.
Earlier this year, researchers Philip Maffetone, Ivan Rivera-Dominguez and Paul Laursen reported that up to 76 percent of the world’s population may be overfat. In this latest report, they’ve focused on some of the world’s wealthiest countries and found that “the estimate of overfat in the world’s 30 top developed nations is substantially higher than the prevalence of overweight and obese adults and children worldwide” ― a fact that they say “stresses the seriousness of the overfat pandemic.”
Laursen, an adjunct professor at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology, said that people need to limit their intake of sugar and processed foods, and called for new government efforts ― “regulations/policies/taxes, etc” ― to address the problem. Clinicians also need to step up their game and encourage better lifestyle choices, he told HuffPost in an email.
Regardless of whether they’re considered medically overweight or obese, overfat individuals have excess body fat, suggesting a high degree of cardiometabolic dysregulation that can increase the risk of chronic and even deadly conditions and diminish quality of life.
Being overfat is linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and gout, pulmonary diseases, sleep apnea and many other conditions. Even people who are physically active may still be overfat, the study notes.
The researchers said that the traditional ways of assessing weight-related issues aren’t effective when determining whether someone is overfat. They recommend measuring your waistline at the belly button and comparing it to your height. The waist measure should be less than half your height.