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Study supports genetic belly fat link: Exercise still best current treatment

While research indicates a genetic link to determining belly fat levels, healthy lifestyle changes that include exercise remain the best forms of intervention
While research indicates a genetic link to determining belly fat levels, healthy lifestyle changes that include exercise remain the best forms of intervention
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Reported by Medical News Today on Jan. 25, researchers from the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences have identified new evidence supporting the genetic link to increased belly fat levels. Abdominal fat, when out of proportion to total body fat, may be considered an indicator of health risks, and this new research could positively impact efforts to develop improved treatments for obesity and obesity-related diseases.

The proportion of fat stored on a person’s abdominal region is evaluated by one's waist-hip ratio (WHR), calculated by dividing an individual’s waist circumference by the hip circumference. In many cases, persons with extra weight located around the middle, often referred to as an ‘apple shape', are at a higher risk for such things as heart disease and diabetes compared to those who tend to carry weight around their hips and thighs. According to the CDC for both men and women, a WHR of 1.0 or higher is considered 'at risk' for heart disease and other problems associated with being overweight.

Led by Assistant Professor, Kira Taylor, Ph.D. M.S. the Louisville research team analyzed over 57,000 people, searching for genes associated with increased abdominal fat independent of overall obesity. In their findings published in "Human Molecular Genetics", the team identified three new genes associated with increased WHR in both men and women, and two new genes including SHC1 that appear to affect WHR in women only.

“This is the first time SHC1 has been associated with abdominal fat,” commented Taylor on Louisville’s News and Events. “We believe this discovery holds great opportunity for medicinal chemistry and eventually, personalized medicine. If scientists can find a way to fine-tune the expression of this gene, we could potentially reduce the risk of excessive fat in the mid-section and its consequences, such as cardiovascular disease.”

With the trend of waist circumference and abdominal obesity among US children and adolescents increasing, finding effective methods to address this so as to avoid future health risks, is becoming more critical. While current research for potential drug treatments continues, experts for now stress that a lifestyle that includes exercise is the very best way to fight belly fat. According to the Harvard Medical School, regular moderate-intensity physical activity 30 – 60 min per day is a good starting point, and that incorporating one hour of strength training twice per week minimum, can reduce the proportion of body fat while improving chances for successfully keeping it off. Spot exercising, such as sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but won’t make an impact on fat reduction.

Accompanying an exercise routine with a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and lean proteins in appropriate portion sizes limited in saturated and trans-fats will also help. Avoid drastically cutting calories because it can force the body into starvation mode, slowing metabolism and paradoxically causing it to store fat more efficiently later on.

New genes linked to abdominal fat uncovered, Medical News Today, Jan. 25

Researchers identify new genes linked to belly fat, Health 24, Jan. 24

Uof L epidemiologist uncovers new genes linked to abdominal fat, Louiville News and Events, Kira Taylor, Ph.D., M.S.