How to measure visceral fat – the 6 ways to check your visceral fat levels

How to measure visceral fat – the 6 ways to check your visceral fat levels

Dr Zoe Williams discusses visceral fat on This Morning

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When you put your hands on your stomach, the fat you can feel is subcutaneous fat – the fat under the skin and overlying the muscle of your abdominal wall. However, what you can’t feel, is the visceral fat. Visceral fat is the fat that cushions your stomach and intestines and a substantial amount of it is very deep in the abdomen and surrounds the kidneys and pancreas – this is called retroperitoneal fat. It’s dangerous to have too much visceral fat, but how much is too much? Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out how to measure visceral fat.

Why is visceral fat dangerous?

Visceral fat is dangerous fat because it produces adipokines, such as adiponectin, interleukin and leptin, all of which induce chronic inflammation.

Dr Lee explained: “This is linked to insulin resistance – the inability of cells to deal efficiently with elevated blood glucose levels – which ultimately increase the risk of type-2 diabetes.

“Increased levels of visceral fat are also linked to the development of high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and abnormal blood lipids.

“Visceral fat is linked to a specific metabolic condition known as metabolic syndrome.

“Increased levels of visceral fat are a significant risk factor for health.

“Excess visceral fat increases your risk of atherosclerosis (the main cause of heart attacks and strokes), type-2 diabetes, cancer and dementia.”

How to measure visceral fat

The most accurate way to find out your levels of visceral fat is to have an MRI, CT or DEXA scan, Dr Lee explained.

However, this is expensive and impractical for most people and there are other ways of assessing it.

Dr Lee said: “Generally, if your waistband is tight, your zip won’t stay done up, and your seatbelt is hard to do up – it’s likely you are carrying too much weight and may well have too much visceral fat.

“Perhaps it’s time to face up to it, measure it, and do something about it before it is too late.

“But you don’t need expensive scans – in fact – you just need a piece of string!”

Here are 6 easy ways to check your visceral fat, including the string test and BMI test.

String test

Line up a piece of string and cut it off to the same length as your height.

Then fold the string in half and cut. Take one half of the string and see if you can stretch it around your abdomen.

If not, you probably have too much visceral fat.

Answer the following questionnaire

If you answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions, you likely have too much visceral fat.

  • Does your waist measure 35 inches or above for a woman, or 40 inches or above for a man? If you are Asian these readings fall to 31.5 and 40 inches, respectively.
  • Is your waist/hip ratio more than 0.85 for a woman and 0.9 for a man?
  • To do this divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
  • Are you, apple-shaped (as opposed to pear-shaped?)
  • This means, do you carry most of your weight in your tummy (apple), rather than on your hips (pear).
  • BMI – Do you have a BMI of 25 or above? You can work out your BMI using the NHS BMI calculator

BMI and waist circumference

The Body Mass Index (BMI) gives a fairly reliable indicator of your obesity status. 

However, it is possible to be thin and still have too much visceral fat.

Dr Lee pointed out: “The BMI scale can also be misinterpreted simply because muscle is heavy. In one 2012 study, only 39 percent of those classified as ‘overweight’ by their BMI, actually had an excess of body fat.

“A more accurate way to determine your levels of visceral fat is by your waist circumference. “If both your BMI and waist circumference are elevated, you are likely to have too much visceral fat.

“An increased waist circumference has long been known to increase your risk of type-2 diabetes and heart disease.”

To measure your BMI – measure your height and weight and enter these details into the NHS BMI calculator.

In adults, BMI results mean the following:

  • 18.5 to 24.9 means a healthy weight
  • 25 to 29.9 means overweight
  • 30 to 39.9 means obese
  • 40 or above means severe obesity

Waist measurement

You can check your visceral fat by measuring your waist with measuring tape.

Dr Lee explained: “To measure your waist – feel for the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips, and place a measuring tape around the midpoint, which is likely to be just around your belly button.

“Pull the tape tight, but not so it digs in. Breathe out naturally and take the measurement and do it two or three times to make sure it’s correct.”

In men, a waist circumference below:

  • 94cm (37in) is ‘low risk’
  • 94–102cm (37-40in) is ‘high risk’
  • more than 102cm (40in) is ‘very high’

In women, a waist circumference below:

  • below 80cm (31.5in) is low risk
  • 80–88cm (31.5-34.6in) is high risk
  • more than 88cm (34.6in) is very high

This applies to people of white European, black African, Middle Eastern and mixed origin.

In men of African Caribbean, South Asian, Chinese and Japanese origin, a waist circumference below 90cm (35.4in) is low risk, more than that is ‘very high risk’ (there isn’t a ‘high risk’ category).

In women from these groups below 80cm (31.5in) is low risk and anything above is very high risk.

The waist-hip ratio

Being apple-shaped poses more of a risk to health than being pear-shaped, and this means the ratio of your waist circumference to your hip circumference is important – the waist-hip ratio.

Dr Lee said: “To work out your waist-hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

“High risk is said to be a waist-hip ratio above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females.”

Callipers

Callipers are specially designed instruments that measure a pinch of skin, and they are calibrated so you then use a table to see your percentage of body fat.

Dr Lee said: “Some gyms and personal trainers offer these.

“They vary in accuracy, but it does mean you can measure your fat levels at different sites in the body.”

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