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Get Rid of Belly Fat to Fight Cancer

February 2010

By Adelina Espat

Are you a having a hard time zipping up a pair of once baggy pants?lean abs

This isn’t just a sign that you need to buy a bigger size. It also may be a sign that you need to pay more attention to your health.

An expanding waistline can increase your chances for cancer.

Studies suggest that a trim tummy is just as important as having a healthy weight or Body Mass Index (BMI). That jiggle in the tummy increases your chances of getting colorectal cancer and possibly pancreatic, breast (after menopause) and uterine cancers, says the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). 

“It’s not just fat directly under the skin,” says Sally Scroggs, M.S., R.D., L.D., health education manager in M. D. Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center.  “A wide waist also is a sign that fat may be growing around important organs, like the pancreas.”

Belly fat may increase insulin in the body
Extra belly fat causes your body to make too much insulin. High amounts of insulin cause your body to produce too many cells, which can lead to cancer.

Belly fat also can do bad things to sex hormones, like estrogen, which may increase your chances of developing breast cancer.

Measure your waist to check for healthtape measure
The AICR suggests that women aim for a 31.5-inch waist or below and men a 37-inch waist or below. Follow the steps below to see how you measure up.

  1. Place a tape measure around your waist at the narrowest point between the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hipbone.
  2. Make sure the tape is snug but doesn’t squeeze your skin.
  3. Measure your waist after breathing out.

Another important measurement is your waist-to-hip ratio. To get this number, place the tape measure loosely around the largest area of your hips. This area is usually around your buttocks. Take note of this number. Now, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio. Men should keep their ratio below 0.95 and women below 0.80.  

A healthy BMI is in the 18.5 to 24.9 range. Normally, if your waist measurement or waist-to-hip ratio is higher than recommended, your BMI also would be above the suggested weight range. However, it is possible to have a normal BMI and still have a high waist measurement or waist-to-hip ratio. If this is the case, doctors still would consider your chances of getting cancer to be higher than normal.

If you’ve got a muscular body, it is possible to have a normal waist measurement or waist-to-hip ratio and an above normal BMI number. In this case, your doctor may look at your total body fat to decide if your chances of getting cancer are higher than normal.

Stay lean as possible around the waistsit up
“Keeping a lean tummy is important for everyone at every age,” Scroggs says. 

If your resolution this year is to tighten those abs, it’s as easy as staying active every day, and choosing the right types and amount of food.

Try the diet tips below:

  • Cut 100 calories from your daily diet
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you eat
  • Eat modest amounts of waist-friendly foods like nuts, beans, green vegetables, low-fat dairy, eggs, lean meats, whole-grain breads and cereal, and berries

The AICR recommends that you do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day to reduce your chances for cancer. Increasing your workout time to 60 minutes or upping the intensity of your 30-minute workout will improve your chances of shedding that extra tummy fat.

M. D. Anderson’s fitness expert shares an abdominal exercise plan and video to get you started.

Related Links

Super Sizing Not a Super Idea (M. D. Anderson)
Exercise Benefits You Inside and Out (M. D. Anderson)
Exercise and Health (M. D. Anderson)
Guidelines for Cancer Prevention (American Institute for Cancer Research)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center