Belly Fat: What Is It?

Be healthy, starting with your waistline

Obesity is described as having excessive fat stored within the body and may increase the risk of health diseases. It is identified when the body mass index (BMI) is above 30, as calculated by dividing the weight of the body (kilogrammes) with the square of the height (meter).

Abdominal obesity (AO) on the other hand, is unlike obesity. It is defined as when excess fat is stored specifically within the abdomen. AO is also known as central obesity or belly fat, it uses the measurement of waist circumference and is defined when the waist circumference in men and women are above 90 cm and 80 cm, respectively.

It is to no surprise that the World Health Organisation (WHO) (2019) stated that Malaysia is now the fattest country in Malaysia. According to the National Health Morbidity Survey (2019), one in two adults in Malaysia had AO; that makes up to half the population of Malaysia!

Obesity has always been known to have a negative impact on our health but what about abdominal obesity? Read on as we explore further on abdominal obesity and how it affects our body.


There are many factors as to why an individual may face difficulties in avoiding AO, some unmodifiable contributing factors are:

  • Heredity: Genetic plays a role in obesity, hereditary diseases like Prader-Willi syndrome can cause obesity.
  • Age: This is because the chronic diseases that come with old age may hinder their physical activity level which may later contribute to weight gain or difficulty in weight loss.

Lifestyle Choices

If you are leading a lifestyle listed below, it’s time for a change!

Physical Inactivity

Physical activity is key in burning off the calories, especially when you’re into high calorie foods and don’t want to gain the extra pounds that comes from them.

Unhealthy diet

An unbalanced diet, high in calories or fat, and may come in oversized portions.


Smoking has been found to increase visceral adipose tissue (fat surrounding the organs within the abdomen).


People with obesity have a higher tendency of developing serious health conditions, some health conditions are:

Type 2 diabetes: AO can cause insulin resistance where the ability of insulin in controlling blood sugar levels is impaired, increasing the risk in type 2 diabetes.

Heart diseases: People with AO are more likely to have high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, which are risk factors for heart diseases.


This is because excessive fat surrounding the organs within the abdomen (visceral adipose tissue) is associated with risk of developing health diseases. Whereas increased fat within hips and thighs are not.

There are various ways to prevent unhealthy weight gain and lose weight.


A mediterranean diet encourages you to:

  • Increase your vegetables and fiber intake
  • Consume less red meat
  • Replace butter with olive oil and canola oil
  • Go for foods high in good cholesterol
  • Reduce overall salt intake
  • Consume red wine in moderation


Be physically active by exercising at least 30 minutes a day, moderate intensity, at least five to six days a week.


If you feel you might be overweight or are currently living an unhealthy lifestyle, you can approach a dietitian or a healthcare professional about ways to improve your health, to manage, lose and prevent weight gain.

Sources: WHO, MayoClinic, VeryWellHealth, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Malaysian Dietary Guidelines, Institute for Public Health