Dietary fat intake affects hidden stomach flab

March 30, 2003

The following news tip is based on an abstract/poster to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 52nd Scientific Session, held March 30--April 2 in Chicago.

You literally are what you eat, at least when it comes to the amount of abdominal visceral fat, Johns Hopkins researchers say. Studying the food diaries of a group of middle-age adults, they found that the more saturated fats such as butter and lard the group ate, the higher the amount of visceral fat surrounding their internal organs. By contrast, a diet of more polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils yielded lower visceral fat.

The accumulation of fat around the waist, or abdominal obesity, is "a powerful risk factor for diabetes and for cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and peripheral arterial disease -- conditions related to cholesterol-laden plaque buildup in the arteries," says Kerry J. Stewart, Ed.D., senior study author and director of clinical exercise physiology. "Visceral fat, the unseen fat within the abdominal cavity, is an even stronger risk factor for disease than subcutaneous fat, the fat just under the skin that is noticeable."

Researchers asked 84 adults (46 women and 38 men) ages 55 to 75 to record their food intake for a three-day period. They analyzed the participants' diets and measured visceral fat using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other techniques.

The strongest indicator of visceral fat, researchers found, was waist circumference. "In addition to maintaining a trim waistline, a diet low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help reduce visceral fat," Stewart says. Men typically have more visceral fat while women have more subcutaneous fat.

Continuing studies will assess the impact of exercise in reducing visceral fat.
Related links:

American College of Cardiology 52nd Scientific Session
Johns Hopkins Division of Cardiology

Johns Hopkins Medicine

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