Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death in Europe. But increasingly scientists are saying it's not just your weight that increases your risk of heart attacks, strokes and type 2 diabetes, but where your fat is deposited.
There are two types of body fat storage:
1. Visceral fat, which is stored around your middle
2. Peripheral fat, deposited under the skin, particularly noticeable in the arms and legs
More about peripheral fat
Peripheral fat, also known as subcutaneous fat, is stored underneath the skin and is evenly distributed around the body, including your arms and legs.
Men and women store and metabolise fat differently. Women tend to have more body fat that's distributed throughout the body (peripheral fat), whereas men are more likely to store it in their abdominal region.
Peripheral versus visceral fat
Visceral fat is stored around important organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines, and larger amounts can put you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer's disease.
Some research has found peripheral fat poses less risks to health than visceral fat. One 2017 study, found a higher amount of subcutaneous fat on the abdomen and thighs was associated with a lower likelihood of developing dementia, unlike visceral fat.
The health risks of peripheral fat
The health risks of peripheral fat are often overlooked with most of the emphasis being on visceral fat, but it does have some potential dangers too.
• Coronary heart disease (CHD): One study, published by the International Journal of Obesity, found central body fat increased the risk of heart attack in both men and women, but peripheral subcutaneous fat only increased the risk of heart attack in men.
• Cardio metabolic risk: This is the technical term for your chances of developing diabetes, heart disease or stroke. One 2017 study, published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that Mexican children aged between five and 11 years old with subcutaneous abdominal fat had a higher cardio metabolic risk.
• High blood pressure: Although high blood pressure is associated with visceral fat, a study published by the American Journal of Medicine, found upper body subcutaneous fat also increased blood pressure. The study concluded greater amounts of body subcutaneous fat were associated with adverse cardio metabolic risk factors.
How to shift peripheral fat
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to tone up and lose fat that's distributed around your body. Follow these simple tips to lose weight the healthy way:
• Eat a healthy well-balanced diet: Include plenty of fruit and vegetables, which are not only low in fat but contain plenty of vitamins and minerals. Eat a high-fibre diet, which includes nuts; pulses, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas; wholemeal and granary bread; brown rice and potatoes with their skin on. And reduce your portion sizes.
• Increase physical activity: Weight-bearing exercises, such as lifting weights, may be beneficial to losing peripheral fat as the more muscle you build, the more fat you'll burn.
• Try HIIT: High intensity interval training has been shown to be more effective for burning subcutaneous fat, which can be more stubborn to shift than visceral belly fat. An Australian study which compared women who did high intensity training three times week for 20 minutes with a group who did steady state exercise, found the higher intensity group lost more subcutaneous fat and weight over 15 weeks.
• Take CLA supplements: Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a nutritional supplement that breaks down fat. One study looked at the effects of a three-week, low-calorie diet with and without CLA supplementation on body composition. Researchers found those who took a combination of supplements including CLA and followed a three-week low-calorie diet had greater peripheral fat loss than those who just dieted.
Supplements can support men's health and weight maintenance. These include:
• Multivitamins: These are a great way to look after your general health and maintain energy levels.
• Artichoke extract: This supplement aids digestion and may also help to control appetite. A study found that participants who took the supplement over two months recorded less hunger and a reduced BMI.