Contrary to popular belief, fat is an essential component of our bodies. In a previous blog article, I presented the benefits, functions and types of fats: Is Fat Good for Me?
How is body fat stored in the body?
Body fat can be divided into two categories: essential fat and stored fat.
• Essential fat is necessary for the healthy functioning of our bodies. It is stored in small amounts in our muscles, bone marrow, muscles and central nervous system.
• Stored fat is the fat found underneath our skin and deep inside our bodies and around internal organs.
What are the differences between body fat in men and women?
Women normally have a higher percentage of body fat compared to men. A higher amount of body fat is necessary for women to start their sexual development that occurs during adolescence. Also, it regulates their reproductive function. Professional athletes and exercise enthusiasts have much lower fat percentages compared to the average person.
It is important to mention that a body fat percentage below the recommendations for men and women can affect the healthy functioning of our bodies.
Total body fat increases as we age. Also, it varies according to the individual’s ethnic background. Women of African descent, southern Europeans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics tend to have a higher fat percentage, compared to women of northern Europe and Asia.
What is the definition of obesity?
Obesity is a described as a disease where the affected individual has a body fat percentage greater than 30-32 percent for women and greater than 25 percent in men. For many years, scientists have taught that fat was an inactive organ, however, they have discovered that the fat cells are very active, producing several hormones and bioactive molecules. An excess of body fat can produce inflammatory agents, which play a role in the development of medical complications associated with obesity.
Obesity has been linked to a variety of chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gastric reflux, gallstones and certain types of cancers.
How is the fat distributed in our bodies?
The distribution of fat in our bodies can determine the risk in developing some of the diseases mentioned previously. Individuals who carry excess body fat around their waist (also known as central obesity or apple-shape) are at higher risk than people who carry the same amount on their hips and thighs (also known as peripheral obesity or pear-shape).
What is subcutaneous and visceral fat?
According to the location, fat mass can be divided into subcutaneous (underneath the skin) or visceral (inside the abdominal cavity and around vital organs).
• Subcutaneous fat: found directly under the skin. This is the fat that can be measured using skin-fold calipers to estimate total body fat.
Fat localized in these areas may not be as bad as the deep fat found inside the body. Individuals who have this type of fat distribution can develop osteoarthritis and gait abnormalities. During peri-menopause and menopause, some women can have an increase in the amount of subcutaneous fat in their abdominal wall, hips and buttocks.
• Visceral fat: located deep inside the body and around vital organs.
Men with a waist circumference of 40 inches or greater and women with a waist circumference greater than 35 inches are considered to have central obesity, therefore they have an increase in visceral fat. Some men have protrusion of their stomach and bowels due to the large amount of visceral fat around these organs. This type of obesity is commonly known as “pot or beer belly”. Visceral fat increases the risk for the development of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions, where the affected individual has:
• Central obesity
• High triglycerides
• High blood pressure
• High blood sugar and
• Low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
Having only three of the five conditions can increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and complications from diabetes.
How can body fat be measured?
Body fat can be determined by using a variety of methods. Simple methods to measure body fat are skin-fold calipers and bioelectrical impedance analysis. Other more sophisticated methods mostly found in university hospitals and research centers are hydrostatic weighing, DEXA (Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) and air displacement plethysmography.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis measures the resistance of body tissues to the flow of a small, harmless electrical signal. The technology is relatively simple, quick, and noninvasive. It provides an estimate of total body water (TBW), which can then estimate fat-free mass (lean mass) and body fat.
How much body fat loss is recommended during weight loss?
As overweight and obese individuals start losing weight, they lose stored fat, water and lean body mass. The American Board of Obesity Medicine recommends at least 75% of the weight loss should be from the fat and less than 25% from the lean mass. The amount of total body fat loss should increase as the weight loss continues.
The purpose of a well-designed weight loss program is to help overweight and obese patients lose excess body fat while preserving lean mass. Rapid weight loss can be very gratifying to many patients; however, it does not promote body fat loss. Losing weight too quickly can cause serious health problems, also including the loss of muscle and water mass. The best weight loss programs are those incorporating healthy eating, cardio and strength training exercises and modification of a patient’s behavior.
The Aesthetic & Wellness Center is an accredited and certified medical weight loss center. We use bioelectrical impedance analysis equipment to determine the amount of initial body fat, and we have the expertise and knowledge to help you lose fat mass while preserving, toning and increasing lean mass.
Our goal is to help you through your weight loss journey, achieving a healthy new weight and to maintain it for many years to come.