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Body fat can harm or help you


Everyone has fat; it is essential to health and survival. Having too little fat can be harmful, but it is the excess fat that is overwhelmingly affecting the health and well-being of many Americans.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 90% of adults are over-fat. This doesn’t mean overweight, just over-fat. So, even individuals who are at a normal weight can be over-fat.

Fat is so much more than the dimpled areas and bulging waistlines. This organ plays a vital role in metabolism, growth and development, reproduction, energy production and immune function. The location of fat cells in the body is primarily determined by genetics.

As infants, our bodies have more brown fat that acts as an insulator to help babies stay warm. Brown fat is typically located along the spine, around the neck and shoulders and generates energy or heat. As we get older, brown fat begins to diminish, although adults do maintain some amount of brown fat. However, as adults, our amount of white fat or storage fat for excess food and calories increases dramatically.

Fat cells begin to develop in childhood and stay with you for life. They can shrink, grow and multiply, and they can settle into any area of the body. The average human body has anywhere from 20 billion to 40 billion fat cells. An overweight or obese body can have up to 100 billion fat cells.

Subcutaneous fat or white fat, which is found directly under the skin, can be found in all areas of the body. Most commonly it is found around the thighs and buttocks, bellies and arms. The subcutaneous fat is what causes a dimpled appearance or cellulite. When the fat cells are full, they press against connective tissue, which has a limited stretching capability, causing dimples on the surface of the skin.

Visceral fat, or white fat that is deep in the abdominal cavity and surrounds all the organs, is the most dangerous type of fat because it increases inflammation in the body and affects insulin production, raising the risk of developing diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart disease. This type of fat is deep beneath the muscle wall.

We all vary in the type of fat we carry, our fat cell volume and number of fat cells. We may have more subcutaneous fat than visceral fat or vice versa. There is no one specific diet or exercise that targets one type of fat over the other.

Scientists and researchers continue to study fat cells and their impact on the metabolic processes of the human body.

Until more definitive research is available, experts recommend these following tips for obtaining healthy body fat levels: eat a variety of whole foods, eliminate processed foods, exercise regularly, manage stress levels, and get plenty of sleep.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at or (803) 773-1404.

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