Very few things are as unhealthy as excess belly fat.
Belly fat is a major risk factor for disease conditions such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and heart disease (1).
In the clinic, there’s a special name given to unhealthy belly fat. It is known as visceral fat. Visceral fat refers to the fat that surrounds your liver and other abdominal organs.
Excess belly fat isn’t just a problem for overweight people. It also increases the risk of health problems in people with normal weight (2).
This article highlights 5 things that can cause you to have belly fat.
Sugary beverages and food
People take in a lot of sugar – so much that they fail to realize.
Examples of sugary foods include candies and cakes, and even the so-called “healthy” frozen yogurt and muffins. Sweet tea, flavored coffee drinks, and soda are examples of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Nutritional studies have shown that there’s a strong association between frequent intake of sugar and high belly fat. The best explanation for this may be the high amount of fructose contained in added sugars (3, 4, 5).
It is worth mentioning that high-fructose corn syrup and regular sugar both contain a large amount of fructose. To be precise, there’s 55% fructose in high-fructose corn syrup and 50% fructose in regular sugar.
A 10-week study found that obese and overweight people who ate no less than 25% of calories as fructose-sweetened beverages on a weight-maintaining diet had a significant decrease in insulin sensitivity as well as an increase in belly fat (6).
In another study, the researchers found that participants who followed a high-fructose diet experienced a reduction in metabolic rate and fat burning (7).
Yes! Taking in too much sugar, in whatever form can be problematic. The ease with which people consume excess sugar within a short period is on the rise, no thanks to the abundant supply of sodas and other sweet drinks.
Other studies have shown that the effect of liquid calories on the appetite differs from that of solid foods. When you take in liquid calories, you’ll feel less full and so fail to compensate by eating less of other foods (8, 9).
Alcohol is both healthful and harmful to your body.
Moderate consumption of alcohol products such as red wine may lower your risk of strokes and heart attacks (10).
Several studies have found that alcohol inhibits fat burning. Also, the calories that come from alcohol are stored as fat in the belly. This explains the term “beer belly” (12).
Several studies have shown an association between high alcohol intake and weight gain in the waist/abdomen region. In a particular study, the researchers found that men who drank more than three parts of alcohol daily had an 80% chance of having belly fat compared to those who took less alcohol (13, 14).
It is also important to note that the volume of alcohol that you drink within a 24-hour timeline also contributes to the beer belly condition.
In one study, people who took less than one drink daily had less abdominal fat, compared to those who took at least four drinks on days when they drank (15).
They have the reputation of being the unhealthiest fats known to mankind.
Trans fats are formed by mixing hydrogen with unsaturated fats. This ensures their stability.
Trans fats help to extend the shelf lives of packaged foods, like baking mixes, crackers, and muffins.
A 6-year study found that monkeys fed an 8% trans-fat diet had their weight increased. Their abdominal fat was also up by 33% compared to monkeys fed an 8% monounsaturated fat diet (21). It is important to note that both groups received just weight-maintaining calories – nothing in excess.
A sedentary lifestyle
An inactive life is a major risk factor for poor health (22).
There has been a gradual decrease in the level of activity among humans, over the past few decades. This has contributed to the rise in abdominal obesity and general clinical obesity.
A 1988-2010 survey conducted in the United States found that there was an astronomic rise in sedentary living, weight, and abdominal fat in both men and women (23).
In another study, researchers compared the effect of at least three hours of daily TV time in women to those who watched less than an hour of TV daily.
The group that watched more than three hours per day had their risk of abdominal obesity increased compared to those that spent very little time watching TV (24).
In another study, researchers suggested that inactivity plays a major role in the development of belly fat even after losing weight.
According to the research report, people who did an aerobic or resistance exercise for a year after losing weight did not regain their abdominal fat. Conversely, those who failed to exercise had their belly fat increase by 25-38% (25).
Eating enough protein from your diet is one of the best ways to prevent weight gain.
On the other hand, low protein causes the development of belly fat over the long term.
Also, several animal studies have found that neuropeptide Y, a hormone in animals and humans increases the appetite and promotes the development of belly fat. It is important to note that the level of neuropeptide Y in your blood increases when your intake of protein falls (31, 32, 33).
Very many factors can contribute to the development of excess belly fat. We’ve highlighted just five of them in this article.
Some of these factors are uncontrollable, like hormonal changes during menopause and genes. However, some factors are entirely under your control.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can help reduce or completely burn off all your belly fat.