Harvard Women's Health Watch

Abdominal fat and what to do about it

Even if you're not overweight, fat around the middle can be a health risk.

Though the term might sound dated, "middle-age spread" is a greater concern than ever. As women go through their middle years, their proportion of fat to body weight tends to increase — more than it does in men. Especially at menopause, extra pounds tend to park themselves around the midsection, as the ratio of fat to lean tissue shifts and fat storage begins favoring the upper body over the hips and thighs. Even women who don't actually gain weight may still gain inches at the waist.

At one time, women might have accepted these changes as an inevitable fact of postmenopausal life. But we've now been put on notice that as our waistlines grow, so do our health risks. Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it's a key player in a variety of health problems — much more so than subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand. Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »