Have you ever wondered why every other person you see on the street seems to have a problem with a protruding belly? they may not be battling obesity, but the odds are that they are battling an ever expanding waistline. According to an article published in the International Journal of Epidimiology South Asians tend to have substantially greater body fat, in particular abdominal fat, than Europeans. This doesn’t however mean that it’s something that you should consider lightly.
Studies suggest that this type of abdominal fat, known as visceral fat or belly fat, is likely to be more dangerous to your health than subcutaneous fat, or the fat just under the skin.
The National Obesity, Overweight and Abdominal Obesity prevalence studies conducted in 2010 have revealed that 16.8 per cent of adults over 18 years are overweight, while 26.2% were identified with abdominal obesity. The STEPS Noncommunicable Disease Risk Factor Survey carried out in 2015 highlighted 23.9% among 18-69 year olds were overweight while an another 5.9% were battling obesity. The mean waist circumference was measured at 82.3 cm in males and 82.1 cm in females according to the STEP survey, which indicated a significant rise in abdominal obesity.
As these factors point towards a rising public health concern in Sri Lanka, June 2018 has been declared the National Nutrition Month with a special focus on raising community awareness on reducing abdominal obesity. The theme for this year is titled “The Right Way to Reduce Abdominal Obesity”.
What is abdominal obesity?
When a person’s energy intake exceeds the energy that’s spent over a period of time, obesity is a likely result. In other words, Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little! For instance if your energy intake- particularly fat and sugars- is high and not burned through sufficient movement or exercise, it would result in deposits of excess energy or fat. This excess fat is mainly deposited around organs of the abdomen (liver, pancreas, intestines and kidneys) which is known as visceral fat and in the subcutaneous tissue beneath the skin which is known as subcutaneous fat. Visceral and subcutaneous fat jointly contribute to
If you are a regular consumer of a diet comprising a high amount of refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat, paired with next to no physical activity, you are a likely victim of abdominal obesity. Bear in mind that convenient dietary options such as fast food and processed foods will only add to your waistline.
How to measure abdominal obesity
The desired waist circumference for Asian males as prescribed by the World Health Organisation is less than 90 cm or 36 inches. The ideal waist circumference for an Asian woman is less than 80 cm or 32 inches.
When measuring waist circumference make sure that you are measuring the mid point between the last rib and the hip bone (iliac curve) using a stretch-resistant tape. Your feet should stay close together, while your arms rest at yours sides and your body weight is evenly distributed.
The internet is full of people posting about their weight - loss transformation stories and this is with good reason. Once deposited, getting rid of abdominal obesity is extremely difficult and needs great effort and determination to prevent deposits of fat hindering your well-being.
While it is easy to accumulate abdominal fat, losing this fat would require a multi-faceted approach which doesn’t stop at a balanced diet, although it is a very important part of the process.
Nine ways to burn belly fat
Cut down daily intake of carbohydrates - Sri Lankans are accustomed to heavy meals based on rice, rice flour or wheat flour which are rich sources of carbohydrates. The portion of rice, or flour based foods should be reduced while refined carbohydrates such as polished rice, bread, string hoppers and noodles should be avoided. Replace your meals with adequate amounts of whole grains, roots and yams which are rich sources of healthier complex carbohydrates.
Avoid Sugar - Most foods and beverages Sri Lankans consume contain added sugar. Sweetened beverages for instance are a popular choice for many local consumers, including soft drinks, flavoured dairy products, tea, coffee and energy drinks. These along with many sweetened foods contain either mono-sacharides -glucose, fructose or disaccharides- sucrose. Opt for naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruits instead, which are extremely healthy and have plenty of fibre which mitigates the negative effects of fructose. The regular intake of sugar is associated with the accumulation of fat and poses a higher risk of abdominal obesity.
Trans fats and saturated fats aren’t your friends - Baked goods such as biscuits and crackers, potato chips and crisps, popcorn, deep-fried meat and margarine are some of the most common sources of trans fats. Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to abdominal obesity and higher body weight even when calories are controlled. Hence, trans fats should be limited to less than 1% of the total fat consumption. Sources of saturated fat come mainly from animal products such as red meat and whole milk dairy products like butter. Coconut oil used in every Sri Lankan kitchen is a plant based source of saturated fat. Nevertheless coconut oil is high in fatty acids of a Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). These fatty acids have been shown to boost satiety compared to other fats, as well as increase the amount of calories burned. Hence, replace your other cooking fats/oils with coconut oil and consider cooking your foods in coconut oil, but make sure that you dispense and consume
Increase protein in meals - You can add sources of high protein foods such as whole eggs, meat, fish, dried fish, legumes, nuts and dairy products. An increased intake of protein reduces hunger and improves the feeling of fullness and therefore prevents overeating. It also increases the rate of metabolism while effectively controlling the loss of muscle mass which can occur in weight loss in the long run.
Increase consumption of fibre - rich food - The increased intake of food containing fibre has shown to slow down visceral fat accumulation by improving satiety/fullness, suppressing appetite and delaying gastric emptying. Foods that are high in fibre are whole grain bread, brown rice, unpolished grains like oats, kurakkan, corn; vegetables such as kohila, ladies fingers, carrot; and fruits such as woodapple, guava, mango, apple, orange and banana.
Hydration is important - Adults require 1-2 liters (6-8 cups of 200ml volume) of water daily. However, this number varies depending on activity level and age. For instance people with chronic diseases such as heart and kidney disease need to get medical advice on how much water they should drink per day. Develop the good habit of always carrying a bottle of water.
Regular exercise is a must - Regular aerobic exercise is important to reduce abdominal fat. Aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming or playing a sport for 30-60 minutes on most days of the week contribute to major reductions of abdominal fat and help prevent visceral fat from accumulating.
Get plenty of sleep - The right amount of sleep is key to preventing visceral fat as well. People who averaged 6 to 7 hours a night of sleep have lowest levels of visceral fat. Less than six hours and above 7 hours are known to associate with more visceral fat.
Reduce Stress - Stress has a number of implications on your health. If your days are full of stress, cortisol levels in the body will increase. High cortisol levels are often associated with stressful lifestyles and can contribute to the accumulation of abdominal fat. Stress relieving activities such as listening to music, meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises on a regular basis will help you keep stress levels at bay.
Source: Health Promotion Bureau