How Did I Get It?

Everyone has visceral fat -- no matter what you weigh or what size you are. As you gain weight, you gain subcutaneous and visceral fat.

Where your body stores fat depends on your genes, lifestyle factors (such as stress and whether you get enough sleep), age, and sex.

Men under 40 tend to have a higher proportion of visceral fat to subcutaneous fat than women. Women store more visceral fat after menopause.

Everyone is going to have fat in both places, but it’s a concern for your health if it’s gone over a certain threshold.

In an obese person, the body can run out of safe places to store fat and begin storing it in and around the organs, such as the heart and the liver.

Fatty liver disease was, until recently, very rare in non-alcoholics. But with obesity increasing, you have people whose fat depots are so full that the fat is deposited into the organs. Now there is much interest in fat being deposited around the heart, as well.”

How Much Is Too Much?

CT scan or MRI is the most precise way to see where fat is stored. But there are simple – and free -- calculations that can show how you might be storing your fat.

Most experts agree that, no matter what your weight, a waist circumference over 35 inches for a woman and over 40 for a man indicates that you may have unsafe levels of visceral fat.

Measuring your waist sounds simple enough. But to make sure you get it right, here are instructions from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute:

  • Stand up. Exhale before you measure -- do not suck in your breath.
  • Wrap the tape measure around your middle. It should go across your navel.
  • Make sure bottom of the tape measure is just above your hip bones. It does not go higher up, even if you're narrower there.

While you're at it, measure your hips, too. Waist-to-hip ratio also indicates fat distribution. According to the Western Journal of Medicine, a healthy ratio is up to 0.8 for women and up to 0.9 for men. The journal offers these guidelines for an accurate hip measurement:

  • Stand up. Place the tape measure around your hips.
  • Make sure the tape goes over the knobby protrusions of the hip bones.

To get your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

BMI, Pears, and Apples

What about BMI? It relates your height to your weight. But it doesn't show where we're storing our fat.

Having a "pear shape," with fatter hips and thighs, is considered safer than the "apple shape," which describes a wider waistline.

What we’re really pointing to with the apple versus pear is that if you have more abdominal fat, it’s probably an indicator that you have more visceral fat.

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