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Weight Loss or Waist Loss?

By Aarti Patel Email By Aarti Patel
October 2009
Weight Loss or Waist Loss?

Did you know that the size of your waist might be a warning sign? Did you know that the more it bulges, the more of a health hazard it might be? And finally, did you know that you should be more concerned about the numbers around your waist than the numbers on the scale?

A recent issue of Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, reported that after a research study, doctors concluded that a person's waist measurement is a more accurate predictor of a heart attack than the body mass index, or BMI, which is a weight-to-height ratio. An LA Times article about this study further states: “Analyzing data from 27,000 people in 52 countries, the scientists found that BMI measurements were only slightly higher among people who had had heart attacks compared with those who hadn't. But heart attack sufferers had a much higher waist-to-hip ratio (a measurement that reflects abdominal fat) compared with those who hadn't, regardless of other cardiovascular risk factors. This finding was true for men and women in every ethnic group.”

Once considered a sign of prosperity and good health in India, the big belly is now a big risk factor, increasing the chances of heart diseases, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and certain cancers. The culprit behind that big belly is visceral fat. Visceral fat is the dangerous fat that lies deep inside the belly surrounding all the internal organs. The more of this fat you have, the more your belly will bulge, putting you at higher risk for getting certain diseases. Scientists believe that the reason visceral fat is so harmful is because of its location near the portal vein, which supplies blood to the liver. Harmful fatty acids that are released by the fat cells are metabolized by the liver, thus influencing the production of blood lipids and resulting in a higher total cholesterol value.

You may have noticed that as the years go by, your belly keeps enlarging and the fat around your abdomen keeps increasing. The high consumption of saturated fats and the lack of activity or exercise is what will cause an increase in visceral fat, thereby increasing the belly bulge each year. Genes also determine where one will store fat—whether it is around the waist more or the hips.

Your waist-to-hip ratio can help determine your risk for cardiovascular disease. What is your waist-to-hip ratio? And should you be concerned? To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, first measure your waist circumference. Place a tape measure around your bare abdomen around your belly button. Stand comfortably and do not “suck in.” Be sure that the tape is snug and that it is parallel to the floor. Relax, exhale and measure your waist. Then obtain your hip measurement by measuring the widest part around your hips. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement and then obtain the percentage. The lower the number, the better off you are. You can also use waist circumference alone to predict your risk factor. For South Asian men, waist measurement should be less than 36 inches and for South Asian women, waist measurement less than 32 inches. And what if you didn’t pass the test? Yes, you should be concerned, because as the years go by, without any significant lifestyle changes that belly will only get bigger, putting you at greater risk.

The good news is that you can lose the fat and reduce that belly bulge by reducing saturated fats in your diet and by exercising. To reduce saturated fats in your diet, avoid all whole milk products (opt for skim or low fat instead), and avoid butter, ghee, and coconut oil. Stir fry instead of deep frying and avoid rich, creamy dishes. Exercise is a must when it comes to losing belly fat. If you are a sedentary individual start by walking three to four days a week and then increase for up to five to six days a week for 30-45 minutes. (Remember to get the green light from your doctor first). Walking should be built up to a pace where carrying on a conversation becomes challenging. If you are already exercising, then step it up a notch. Challenge yourself more and increase the intensity. If you are able to brisk-walk, try adding a 30-second jog every two minutes. Or, take a fast-paced aerobics class and don’t neglect to perform strength training exercises. With exercise and diet modification, you too can reduce that waist. Remember, just don’t give up!


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