Bigger Bellies: Bad for Bones?

Bigger Bellies: Bad for Bones?

Do you recall reading that extra weight can protect your bones? If so, you probably thought, hey, great – at least it’s good for something.
Well, sorry, but researchers are now making somewhat of an 180-degree turn – or, at least when it comes to “spare tires.” It looks as though extra belly weight doesn’t only increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It may also increase your risk of osteoporosis. That’s the condition causing fragile, porous bones in about 10 million Americans and leading to more than 1.5 million fractures each year.
A Harvard study looked at 50 premenopausal women who had an average body mass index (BMI) of about 30, which is considered obese. It found that women who packed away more fat around their middles had lower bone mineral density, a set-up for fragile bones.
Researchers aren’t sure why this kind of fat hurts bones. But they do know that deep belly fat releases fatty acids into the liver. It also releases other substances and hormones that are hard on the heart and pancreas. It could be that similar changes are wreaking havoc with your bones, too.
Now you’ve got one more reason to let loose of those love handles. That’s especially true if you are female, 65 or older, slender, Caucasian or Asian, or you have a family history of osteoporosis.1

These are other osteoporosis risk factors, but ones you can mostly control:

  • You have low estrogen.
  • You eat a diet low in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Your lifestyle is lacking in physical activity.
  • You smoke or drink too much alcohol.
  • You take certain medications, such as cortisone or chemotherapy.1

So how can you know if your belly is too big, and what can you do about it? Use a soft tape measure to check your waist. If you’re a woman and your waist measures 35 inches or more, it’s time to lose a little. (If you’re a man, that number is 40 inches or more.)2 Also use a BMI chart to help guide yourself into a healthy weight range (18.5–24.9).

The good news is that belly fat is often the first fat to go. That’s because it’s more metabolically active.2 Other steps for banishing the big belly? For example, eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which fill you up faster, combined with proteins. Eat fewer refined foods like white rice or bread, which elevate your blood sugar, often leading to a faster deposit of fat.2

And, don’t forget the other side of the weight-loss equation: exercise. Extra crunches aren’t the answer, even though that might seem like a logical place to start. Instead, work up to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise like brisk walking a day, combined with regular resistance training to build calorie-burning muscles.3


1National Institutes of Health: “Osteoporosis Handout on Health.”

2WebMD: “The Truth About Belly Fat.”

33Wycherley, T.P. et al. Diabetes Care. 2010. 33(5):969–76.

©Sierra Family Pharmacies – September 2010