What is visceral body fat?
Visceral body fat, also known as 'hidden' fat, is fat stored deep inside the belly, wrapped around the organs, including the liver and intestines. It makes up about one tenth of all the fat stored in the body.
Most fat is stored underneath the skin and is known as subcutaneous fat. That is the fat that is visible and that you can feel. The rest of the fat in the body is hidden. That is visceral fat.
Visceral fat makes the belly stick out or gives a person an 'apple' shape. It also produces chemicals and hormones that can be toxic to the body.
Visceral fat produces more toxic substances than subcutaneous fat, so it is more dangerous. Even in thin people, having visceral fat carries a range of health risks.
Visceral fat is more common in men than in women.
What causes visceral fat?
Fat gets stored when you consume too many calories and have too little physical activity. Some people tend to store fat around their belly rather than on the hips because of their genes.
In women, getting older can change where the body stores fat. Especially after menopause, women’s muscle mass gets less and their fat increases. As women age, they are more likely to develop more visceral fat in the belly, even if they do not put on weight.
In men, age and genetics also play a role in developing visceral fat. Drinking alcohol can also lead to more belly fat in men.
What are the health risks of visceral fat?
Having visceral fat in the belly is a sign of metabolic syndrome, a collection of disorders that include high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance. Together, these increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Having too much visceral fat in the belly can also cause:
- liver disease
- gall bladder disease and gout
- fertility problems
- lower back pain
ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use the Risk Checker to find out.
How do I know if I have visceral fat?
The best way to tell if you have visceral fat is to measure your waist. The waist circumference is a good indicator of how much fat is deep inside the belly, around the organs. For women, your risk of chronic disease is increased if the waist circumference is 80 cm or more and for men 94cm or more. These measurements don’t apply to children or pregnant women. If you think your waist measurement may be too large, talk to your doctor.
Measuring the Body Mass Index (BMI) may also tell whether you are carrying too much fat.
NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT? — Use the BMI Calculator to find out if your weight and waist size are in a healthy range.
How can I reduce visceral fat?
The best way to reduce visceral fat is through losing weight and diet. Visceral fat responds better to diet and exercise than fat on the hips. Regular exercise can also stop visceral fat from coming back.
Another option is medication, but studies show this is not as effective in reducing visceral fat as exercise. Liposuction does not work to remove visceral fat.
Even though you cannot change your genetics, hormones or your age, you can reduce your risk of disease by:
- exercising for at least 30 minutes every day (for example by brisk walking, cycling, aerobic exercise and strength training)
- eating a healthy diet
- not smoking
- reducing sugary drinks
- getting enough sleep
Resources and support
For more information and support, try these resources:
- Get Healthy is a free telephone service that is available in NSW, Queensland and South Australia that is staffed by qualified health coaches who supports adults to make lifestyle changes regarding healthy eating, physical activity and reaching and/or maintaining a healthy weight.
- LiveLighter is another program that aims to encourage Australians to make changes to what they eat and drink, and to be more active.
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Last reviewed: May 2021