What Is Visceral Fat?

PLN expert coach explains what visceral fat is, how it is calculated, and how you can work to reduce yours.

Published On July 6, 2022
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So, exactly what is visceral fat? And why should you be concerned about it? To begin answering these issues, consider the role of Body Mass Index (BMI) in hiding the possible health implications of visceral fat.

How Can BMI Be Deceptive?

Assume you are an office worker who has acquired a little weight since starting your new job and would like to assess your body weight. If you're like most people, you'll utilize the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is used by physicians, insurance companies, and plain people all around the world to evaluate whether a person is overweight or obese.

The National Institute of Health in the United States calculates BMI.

After you calculate your score, you compare it to the World Health Organization's Body Mass Index ranges.

Your BMI of 23.9 falls between 18.5 and 24.9, putting you in the normal range. You're going to take it! But, before you get too excited, consider this: 

Body Mass Index was never meant to be used to assess individuals.

Because it is the same for both sexes and all ages of adults, the BMI is the most appropriate population-level measure of overweight and obesity. It should, however, be regarded as a rough reference because it may not equate to the same body fat percentage in various people.

Despite this apparent warning, many doctors, clinicians, and ordinary people continue to utilize BMI as a diagnosis tool for convenience.

However, using BMI as your sole health indicator can conceal your risk for major health problems because BMI cannot distinguish between muscle mass and fat, and, more crucially, where the fat is located. You could be hiding an unpleasant secret behind that healthy BMI.

Let's use a medical-grade body composition analyzer on the same person.

The estimated quantity of fat surrounding internal organs in the belly is used to calculate Visceral Fat Area. For optimal health, you should keep your Visceral Fat Area around 100 cm2.

Although most individuals (and the media) focus on a higher-than-acceptable body fat percentage, this individual's excessive visceral fat is actually the worse of the two. The reason for this is that visceral fat functions as another living organ within your abdominal cavity.

What is visceral fat and why is it important? 

Visceral fat is a type of abdominal fat that is found deep within your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs. In contrast to surface-level (subcutaneous) fat, it is difficult to determine how much visceral fat someone has simply by looking at them.

If your primary tool for assessing weight is BMI, you may have considerable levels of visceral fat and be unaware of it.

Everyone has some visceral fat, but having too much of it raises the risk of major health problems. Visceral fat, in contrast to the life-sustaining organs you were born with, actively works from the inside out to undermine those organs and disrupt your basic functioning.

Visceral fat, according to Harvard University, secretes a variety of hormones and substances. Cytokines are one sort of molecule that visceral fat produces. Cytokines serve an important role in the human body, however, elevated cytokine levels due to excess visceral fat can be detrimental. 

When cytokines enter the liver, they alter blood lipid production, which has been related to greater cholesterol and insulin resistance, potentially leading to type 2 diabetes, a severe health risk.

Type 2 diabetes is often connected with overweight or obese people, and people with BMIs above the normal range (18.5-24.9) are considered to suffer significantly greater health risks. BMI, on the other hand, can misrepresent those who are close to or slightly above the 24.99 level.

But that's not all: those with a normal BMI but high visceral fat levels have the same risk profiles as those who are physically obese. Maintaining a high level of visceral fat can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and depression.

Many people have a body profile similar to our previous example: a lot of abdominal visceral fat but a "normal" BMI since they don't have much skeletal muscle mass. Excess visceral fat is becoming more widespread as a result of the trend toward sedentary lifestyles.

What Is the Cause of Visceral Fat?

A caloric surplus can lead to an increase in visceral fat. Unsurprisingly, visceral fat develops as a result of poor lifestyle choices. Among these elements are:

  • Little or no exercise, or avoiding muscle-building functional exercises
  • A diet that is heavy in carbs, saturated fat, and empty calories.
  • Sleeping problems
  • Excessive alcohol consumption as a result of stress
  • Smoking

It is very easy for those who lead sedentary lifestyles to develop numerous of these bad behaviors. These behaviors will result in an increase in body fat, especially visceral fat, over time.

How to Calculate Visceral Fat

What is the best way to tell whether you have a lot of visceral fat?  

Here are three possibilities:

1. Waist circumference measurement:

According to the Mayo Clinic, measuring your waistline using a measuring tape is a good technique to determine your visceral fat percentage. If your waist circumference is greater than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for males, you may be carrying too much visceral fat.


2. DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) Scan

A DEXA test is one of the most precise methods of assessing the quantity of visceral fat deposits. However, access to a facility with a unit is required, and testing might be costly.

3. Expert Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

A medical BIA test is a fantastic alternative to a DEXA test. These tests assess your body fat percentage by measuring the resistance of an electric current as it flows through your body, which includes visceral fat. 

Advanced BIA devices that take direct segmental measurements can report visceral fat content, but you must ensure that the gadget you are using is capable of doing so.

Knowing your body composition will offer you a much better sense of your visceral fat content than BMI.  

If your weight and/or BMI are considered "normal," but a body composition test reveals that you have a high body fat percentage and low muscle mass (as in skinny fat people), you may want to consider making some lifestyle changes to reduce your visceral fat and risk of developing serious health complications such as heart disease in the future. 

As part of your weight loss approach, if your body composition test offers your BMR, use that value to help establish your daily caloric needs. Remember to seek medical counsel from your doctor before attempting to lose visceral fat.

How Do You Get Rid of Visceral Fat?

Your best bet is HIIT (high-intensity interval training).  

Three sessions of interval training (20 minutes each session) for 12 weeks resulted in a 17 percent reduction in visceral fat, according to this study.

In addition, two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training has been proven to improve a woman's fat oxidation ability. This indicates that your metabolism is temporarily boosted after you exercise.


Hopefully, this clarifies your understanding of visceral fat. BMI cannot tell you if you are lean, overweight, or somewhere in the middle—it's all just numbers. It cannot also tell you how much visceral fat you have.

Don't think your visceral fat level is unimportant if you have a "normal" weight and BMI! It's all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "I may be chubbier, but I'm not obese, so I don't need to lose weight" or “I guess I just have good genes, so I'm always going to look underweight.”

No one should expect to live their entire life with a healthy quantity of visceral fat if they eat a diet heavy in calories and saturated fat while disregarding activity like strength training.

The good news is that you can avoid developing too much visceral fat if you exercise, monitor your calories, and live a generally healthy lifestyle.  

Body composition testing will always provide you with far more information than your BMI and can provide you with a much more accurate view of everything that contributes to your weight, including visceral fat. 

Remember, "what gets measured, gets managed," so get a body composition test and discover out how much visceral fat you have!

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