The paunch. The front porch. The beer belly. Call it what you will, but the rate of occurrence of abdominal obesity in U.S. adults appears to have grown significantly in the first decade or so of the turn of the century.

The average waist circumference has gone up significantly among adults in the United States, probably something you’ve noticed.

Abdominal obesity is caused by fat around the internal organs. It’s been linked to a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a cluster of a group of five conditions known as metabolic syndrome that raises the risk of developing those conditions.

An excess of calories is stored as fat, but where that fat is stored depends in part on age, gender, and hormones. Abdominal fat occurs in both men and women, and in general, it tends to be more prominent in older people. Decreased caloric needs, hormonal declines, and decreased activity are often listed as factors in the phenomenon of storing fat around the midsection as we age.

In looking at the data amassed over a 14-year period, researchers found that, after adjusting for age, the overall average waist circumference went from 37.5 in 1999 to 38.7 inches in 2012. Increases were greatest among non-Hispanic whites who were in their 40s, and non-Hispanic black men in their 30s. A healthy place to be in inches for women is a waist size of less than 35 inches, and for men is a waist size of less than 40 inches. Researchers noted that what can make tracking abdominal obesity difficult for an individual is an over reliance on what the numbers show when standing on the scale. They noted that waist circumference (and the potential for the health problems with which it is associated) can increase even though a person’s weight can remain stable. The authors of the study stress that waist circumference should also be measured regularly, any resulting increase can be a wake-up call to those who may need improved physical activity and a change in dietary behaviors. Afterall, the 4 things that are going to end this battle with belly fat are:

1. Enough Exercise: at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, at least 5 days a week (walking the dog counts!)

2. Good Diet: this is a pretty obvious impactor of belly fat, being mindful of what you eat. Lay off the simple sugars and high calorie crap food. And make sure also to get enough fiber through the day, 10 grams is good.

3. Right Amount of Sleep: shoot for at least 6 hours, but try for 7. Studies find that adults (not children, they need more sleep than adults) who slept 8 or more hours per night gained more fat around the middle over a 5 year period than adults who slept between 6 and 7 hours.

4. Controlling Stress: yes, stress does contribute to fat accumulation. When you’re under a lot of stress, your cortisol levels increase. Why? Because your body is thinking that you need to fight or flee, and you need energy for that. A cortisol level increase correlates to an increases appetite, so people who are under constant stress are usually also hungry.


Ford, Earl S., Leah M. Maynard, and Chaoyang Li. “Trends in Mean Waist Circumference and Abdominal Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2012.” JAMA 312.11 (2014): 1151-1153.

Collins, Sonya, reviewed by Michael Smith. “The Truth about Belly Fat”. March 20, 2014.