What your body fat is telling you about your risk of silent killers

EXCESS body fat is bad news for our health. But a new study suggests it’s the location of your fat, rather than the amount of it, that you should be paying attention to.

Subcutaneous fat is the “safer” fat that sits under the skin and is easier to get rid of, while visceral fat is the “dangerous” or “toxic” body fat stored deeper in the body that impacts our size and shape and our bodies’ system.


Excess body fat is bad news for our health – we highlight which areas of the body we need to worry about

GP Dr Sarah Garsed says: “Visceral fat is active, which means it changes the chemical balance in our body that leads to disease.

“It can also sit around our vital organs, affecting their ability to function.”

New studies have found having small amounts of fat in certain “trouble areas” can be more worrying.

Jenny Francis-Townson looks at which areas of the body we need to worry about when it comes to fat stores, and what they are trying to tell us.

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Neck and face

STORING fat in the neck and face could be a sign you’re at risk of heart disease.

A US study found the larger your neck, the more likely you are to have high levels of LDL (aka non-HDL – or “bad” cholesterol).

Researchers believe that a neck circumference over 14in for women and 17in for men indicates greater risk of heart disease and heart attack.

Dr Sarah says: “Neck fat can also put pressure on the main airways of the body making it harder for people to breathe.

“This can be particularly bad at night, with some patients struggling to breathe, increasing their risk of sleep apnoea, strokes and depression, not to mention making them very loud snorers.”


FOR men and women, an increase in breast size caused by fat storage is a warning sign for future cancer risk.

Dr Sarah says: “Fat cells produce the hormone oestrogen, and an increase in oestrogen can increase the chances of developing breast cancers.

“These extra fat cells in the breast can also trigger inflammation in the body that can contribute to cancer.”


GAINING fat on the top of the arms is a sign of excess fat in the entire body – and a warning sign that you need to seriously consider losing weight to protect your health.

Dr Sarah says: “Excess fat on the arms usually indicates obesity and a very high BMI.

“We know that obesity is caused by poor diet and anyone struggling with fat here will likely also be noticing fat stores elsewhere.

“Being obese increases your chances of depression, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, stroke, joint pain, heart disease, cancer and early death, so this is a warning sign to try and change your lifestyle.”

Dr Sarah says: 'Excess fat on the arms usually indicates obesity and a very high BMI'


Dr Sarah says: ‘Excess fat on the arms usually indicates obesity and a very high BMI’Credit: Getty


RESEARCHERS found people with marbled fat in their thigh muscles have a 34 per cent increased risk of developing heart failure compared to those who don’t.

The experts behind the study believe this “intramuscular” fat, just like belly fat, is “active”, causing inflammation in the body and making the immune system attack, rather than defending.

This can lead to heart attacks and the development of type 2 diabetes.


HAVING a layer of “pinchable fat” around our waistlines is totally natural, but when we begin to store too much visceral fat there it can be dangerous for our health – and 28million Brits have this problem.

Dr Sarah warns: “It often makes its way in to your liver where it’s turned into cholesterol.

“Cholesterol travels easily into the bloodstream, clogging up arteries and causing increased risks of heart disease, heart attack, strokes and high blood pressure.

“Visceral tummy fat can also impact chemical responses and the inflammation this causes in the body can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.”

Research also shows it can leave you more vulnerable to certain cancers, including breast and colon.

So how can you shift it?

IT’S nearly impossible to target specific areas of the body to lose fat from, but you can shift body fat more generally, without medical intervention.

You can shift body fat more generally, without medical intervention


You can shift body fat more generally, without medical interventionCredit: Getty

Increase ‘neat’

NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – is the movement you do that isn’t specific exercise, such as moving around the house, showering or making the bed.

If you increase that movement and reduce your time spent sitting, you increase your baseline fat-burning and boost chances of blasting body fat.

Eat more nutrients

BY eating a larger variety of fruit, veg, legumes and whole proteins, we feed our gut bacteria and increase our nutrient intake.

Nutritionist Sarah Buckhart says: “The more nutrition we take on, the less likely we are to fill up on high-calorie foods.

“Plus, the happier our gut bacteria, the more likely we are to digest food efficacy and less likely we are to struggle with low mood – which also improves our chances of burning fat.”

Ditch processed foods

CUT down on processed foods such as takeaways, crisps, pastries, biscuits and sausages.

They have very low nutrient value and are designed to make us want to eat more of them.

They are also calorie-dense, so when we eat them we take on more energy, making us more likely to store fat.

Stress less

WHEN we are stressed we release the hormone cortisol, which not only causes us to want to eat more, it can also impact our ability to break down fat in the body.

Try to take time out, sleep more and avoid stressful situations.

Mix up exercise

PERSONAL trainer Cecilia Harris says: “Cardio exercise burns lots of calories, which is what we want if trying to shift fat.

“Cardio is anything that increases heart rate, like walking, running, cycling, HIIT workouts, aerobics, etcetera.

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“Strength training is also great for fat loss, but in a different way.

“When we lift weights we build muscle, and the more muscle we have, the more calories we use day-to-day, making it easier to lose body fat. Try doing a bit of both every week.”

Is it all bad?

HEALTHY body fat levels depend on age.

For those aged 20 to 39, the healthy range for women is 21 to 32 per cent, for men it’s 8-19 per cent.

For people 40 to 59, it’s 23 to 33 per cent for women and 11 to 21 per cent for men.

For those aged 60 to 79, it’s 24 to 35 per cent for women and 13 to 24 per cent for men.

Anything above these levels increases risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression and dementia.

Nutritionist Sarah Buckhart says: 'The more nutrition we take on, the less likely we are to fill up on high-calorie foods'


Nutritionist Sarah Buckhart says: ‘The more nutrition we take on, the less likely we are to fill up on high-calorie foods’Credit: Getty

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