What Is Abdominal Obesity?

Three men with abdominal obesity.
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  • Written By: Geisha A. Legazpi
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2014
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Obesity can be classified into different types based on where fat deposition is located. Abdominal obesity refers to excess fat deposition within the abdomen. This fat deposit is called visceral fat, and is significant because it increases the risk for many adverse health events. Among clinicians, abdominal obesity is also known as central obesity. People outside the medical community refer to it as belly fat, beer belly, or potbelly.

There are various causes of central obesity, but the most evident is the intake of excess calories without a corresponding increase in energy expenditure. Overeating, together with physical inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle, is the primary cause. Endocrinological diseases, such as Cushing’s syndrome, and drugs, such as steroids, have also been implicated in central obesity.

Abdominal obesity is suspected among people who have an apple-shaped body type. Determining the severity of abdominal obesity depends on waist and hip circumference measurements. Among men, it is diagnosed when the waist circumference is greater than 40 inches (102 cm) and the waist-to-hip ratio is greater than 0.9. In women, it is diagnosed when the waist circumference is greater than 35 inches (88 cm) and the waist-to-hip ratio is greater than 0.85.


According to studies, measures of abdominal obesity predict obesity health risks more accurately than measurement of body mass index (BMI). For instance, the abdominal obesity metabolic syndrome association is very evident among people who have excessive waist circumference. In fact, along with an elevated blood pressure, increased low-density lipoproteins (LDL), decreased high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and increased blood sugar, the International Diabetes Federation considers central obesity as the primary criterion for metabolic syndrome.

Visceral fat is located within the abdominal cavity, so compression of abdominal organs such as the liver, kidneys, and abdominal aorta may occur. This could lead to obesity abdominal pain symptoms. Another possible link between central obesity and abdominal pain is the increased risk of gallstones among obese people. Abdominal pain due to gallstones usually occurs in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen.

There is an increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease among people who have this condition, so abdominal obesity treatment is needed. Proper dietary modification and regular aerobic exercise are still considered the first-line treatments for this condition. For people who have difficulty losing weight through diet and exercise alone, orlistat, a drug that decreases fat absorption, may be prescribed. Surgery, such as bariatric surgery or gastric bypass surgery, may be considered for patients who do not respond to diet, exercise, and medication.


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