Belly Fat vs. Hip Fat: Is One Worse for Your Health Than the Other?

Is your cancer risk lower if you have a flat stomach?

Belly Fat vs. Hip Fat: Is One Worse for Your Health Than the Other?

Q: I gain weight in my hips but my stomach stays pretty flat. Does that mean I am dodging the dangers that are associated with belly fat, like cancer and heart disease?

A: Excess body fat, wherever it's located, is inflammatory and triggers changes in your body on a cellular level, to hormones, your immune system, your brain and your other organs. Visceral fat — that's fat around your belly — is the most inflammatory of all body fat. But that doesn't mean that fat on your hips, arms, or legs doesn't increase your risk for cancer or heart disease (not to mention disrupted sleep, mental stress, neurologic dysfunction, viral infections).

It Doesn't Matter Where Your Extra Fat Is

One study of almost 70,000 people found any kind of obesity is a trigger for hypertension, diabetes, and A-Fib. And a new study recently presented found that overweight/obesity increases the risk of 10 cancers no matter how you measure it — whether that's with BMI, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, or waist and hip circumferences.

Your Cancer Risk Goes Up With More Fat

Researchers followed 437,393 adults (average age 56 years) who were cancer-free for nine years to see who developed cancer later. Turns out that for each 5.1-point jump in a women's BMI above 25 (the number where "overweight" begins), the risk for several cancers went up:

  • Risk of stomach cancer went up 35%
  • Risk of gallbladder cancer 33%
  • Risk of liver cancer 27%
  • Risk of kidney cancer 26%
  • Risk of pancreatic cancer 12%
  • Risk of bladder cancer 9%
  • Risk of colorectal cancer 10%
  • Risk of endometrial cancer 73%
  • Risk of postmenopausal breast cancer 8%

This increased risk also applied to each 4.2-point jump in a man's BMI above 25. And the percentages held true for all the other measurements of overweight/obesity. The researchers also found the more severe obesity is, the higher the risk of developing and dying from these cancers, except for postmenopausal breast cancer.

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