Is a beer belly your worst enemy?
There was a time when having a beer belly was considered an endearing Aussie trait. Many of us grew up with fathers, uncles and grandfathers who carried excess weight around their midsection. However, our understanding of the “harmless” beer belly and what it’s doing to men’s health is changing. We now know that those few extra kilos can be very harmful and even potentially deadly.
Excess abdominal fat, particularly visceral fat (the kind that surrounds your organs and puffs your stomach into a pot belly), is a precursor of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease and some cancers.
“Men need to be better educated on the dangers of carrying even a few extra kilograms,” says Dr Nick Fuller of the Boden Institute at the University of Sydney. “A new study has just been published showing that even those at the lower end of the obesity spectrum, have a 35 per cent increased risk of heart failure,” says Dr Fuller.
Obesity levels have doubled since the 1980s and a technology driven, time-poor lifestyle is largely to blame. Many men are spending longer hours at the desk, drinking more alcohol and eating a diet high in processed foods, sugar, salt and saturated fats.
“In addition to these dietary factors, levels of physical activity have also decreased dramatically since the 1980s,” says Dr Fuller. “Greater overall wealth has resulted in the reduction of exercise-related mobility, such as cycling and walking, in exchange for more convenient transportation like cars and motorbikes.”
This is further compounded by the increasing demand for white-collar employment. “Consequently, physically hard work has decreased, while sedentary office work has increased. Leisure activities have followed a similar trend,” says Dr Fuller.
It’s no longer just middle-aged men who need to loosen their belts as their girth increases. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014-2015 National Health Survey found that nearly 60 per cent of men aged over 18 have a waist measurement of 94 centimetres or more, the figure used to indicate an increased risk of chronic disease.
Mike Campbell, a Sydney-based “man coach” and author of “Unleash Your Alpha” says he sees many men who are confused about diet, exercise and what being healthy really means. “I see men who are not where they want to be physically, but are hesitant to admit it,” says Campbell. “When men do decide to make a change, there is just so much (often conflicting) information that it’s almost impossible for the regular guy to know what to do.”
Professor Katherine Samaras, the spokesperson and public face of the Making Healthy Normal campaign for NSW Health, is less sympathetic. “I see two types of men,” she says. “The first is the narcissistic, self-absorbed type who obsesses about even the smallest disturbance to their sixpack, but the far more common beast is the ostrich who buries his head in the sand.”
“They have no understanding of how detrimental carrying that extra belly fat is,” say Prof Samaras. “Many of them already have metabolic health outcomes but aren’t making any changes. That means they’ll be diabetic or pre-diabetic, have elevated blood lipids, and so forth. I’ll often say to them, ‘Are you waiting to have the heart attack before you take this seriously?’”
Prof Samaras is convinced that there is a lot of denial going on, including men believing that they’re eating the right foods, and as a consequence, ignoring portion size. “I see so many men who are eating far more than they need to, including what I would call high-quality foods such as organic and expensive proteins. It’s often brought on by fad diets, but their portion sizes are huge,” she says.
“What men need to remember,” she adds, “is that it’s your total kilojoule intake that will determine how much you weigh. It’s not whether you’re consuming lots of green smoothies or other fad foods. If you have more kilojoules in [your body] than are coming out, you will be overweight. And if you don’t restrict your kilojoules, you will never lose weight. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating a junk-food diet or a high-quality food diet.”
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website