When It Comes to Body Fat, It's All About Location

Find out why omentum -- a type of belly fat -- is the baddest fat in town

measuring tape

Medically reviewed in September 2021

If you're overweight, the extra fat is sure to manifest itself in some outward side effects, like a lack of energy or self-esteem. But many of the risk factors associated with carrying too much fat don't have any outward symptoms at all -- the only way to tell whether being overweight is threatening your life is by focusing on what's happening at your body's most core levels.

Three Kinds of Fat
See, fat is like real estate: It's all about location, location, location. We all have three kinds of fat: fat in our bloodstream (called triglycerides), subcutaneous fat (which lies just beneath the skin's surface), and omentum fat. The omentum is a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly, where it hangs underneath the muscles in your stomach (which is why some men with beer guts have hard-as-a-keg bellies -- their fat is under the muscle). You may hear people on the street refer to it not only as a beer gut but also as belly fat, love handles, a beach-ball belly, or a spare tire. Doctors refer to it as visceral fat or intra-abdominal adiposity (IAA).

Because this omentum fat is so close to your organs, it's their best energy source. (Why go to the gas station on the other side of town when there's a station at the next corner?).

What Belly Fat Does
In addition, the fat released from the omentum rapidly and constantly travels to your liver, unlike the fat on your thighs, which patiently waits. The processed material is then shipped to the arteries, where it is linked to health risks like high LDL (lousy) cholesterol. Also, the more omentum fat you have, the less adiponectin you produce. Adiponectin is a stress- and inflammation-reducing chemical related to the hunger-controlling hormone leptin.

Those are the reasons why the fat on your thighs doesn't matter as much to your health as does omentum fat, and they help explain why omentum fat (or an "apple" body shape) is more harmful than subcutaneous fat (like thigh fat, which gives you a "pear" shape). Subcutaneous fat isn't supplying a feeding tube to your vital internal organs, and it's not messing up the levels of substances in your blood that are being supplied to those organs.

Encouraging News
What's most interesting -- and encouraging -- is that as soon as you make physiological changes to your omentum, your body starts seeing the effects. That is, once your body senses it's losing that fat, then your body's blood-related numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar) start traveling in a healthy direction -- within days, before you even notice any physical signs of weight loss. It's a good reason not to get discouraged by the numbers on your scale during the first few weeks of a diet, because you're doing the right things for your body.

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