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Obesity is associated with a plethora of health problems ranging from high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels to asthma and arthritis. Until recently, most medical professional believed that overweight men were less likely to suffer from poor bone health than women.
Recent studies have suggested that this is no longer the case. The change in beliefs is not due to a change in men’s health, but more a direct result of the fact that the majority of early studies regarding bone health have been conducted on women.
A team of researchers led by Miriam Bredella, an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and a practicing radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a study on obesity in men and the effects on bone health. The men in the study were divided into 2 groups. The first group was made up of men whose obesity was a result of subcutaneous fat, the type of fat that is found just under the skin, dispersed throughout the body. The second group of men suffered from visceral fat, the deep fat that pads the abdomen, deep beneath the layers of muscles. Visceral fat is the dangerous fat, referred to as the beer belly.
Visceral fat, or beer belly fat, can be a problem for both overweight and thin people. This type of fat is dangerous because it accumulates between the organs and is closely related to the development of heart disease. Visceral fat can develop as a result of a poor diet and an inactive lifestyle, though it can also be genetic in some individuals.
The men in the study, all within the same age range, underwent various testing methods, such as abdominal CT scans. Bone strength was evaluated as was their risk of developing a bone fracture. Testing revealed that the men with the beer bellies had bones that were twice as weak as the men without beer bellies. The men without beer bellies also had increased muscle mass.
The underlying reasons for the association between beer belly and weak bones are the presence of less human growth hormone in men with beer bellies, and the secretion of inflammatory molecules from visceral fat. Human growth hormone helps to maintain strong healthy bones, so a shortage of it can lead to weakened bones. The inflammatory secretions produced by visceral fat further weaken bones, leading to an overall increased risk of decreased bone strength I men with beer bellies.