Harvard Heart Letter

Having a big belly puts your heart in danger

Cutting back on carbohydrates can help shrink a bulging midriff.

Pants getting a little snug? It's not just you: Americans' waistlines have ballooned over the past decade or so, to an average of just under 40 inches for men and almost 38 inches for women, according to a large federal study.

Excess fat just under the skin, known as subcutaneous fat, may be partly to blame for this trend. But a big belly—what doctors call abdominal obesity—signals the presence of visceral fat, which surrounds your internal organs and is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

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