Researchers know that the type of fat that you can measure with tape isn't the most dangerous but what is the most effective way to fight internal, visceral fat that you cannot see or feel. Turns out, exercise is your best friend when it comes to fighting against deep abdominal fat.
The results of the study were published in the journal 'Mayo Clinic Proceedings'.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center analysed two types of interventions - lifestyle modification (exercise) and pharmacological (medicine) - to learn the best way to defeat fat lying deep in the belly.
"Visceral fat can affect local organs or the entire body system. Systemically it can affect your heart and liver, as well as abdominal organs. When studies use weight or body mass index as a metric, we don't know if the interventions are reducing fat everywhere in the body, or just near the surface," said senior author and cardiologist Dr Ian J. Neeland.
To find out, the researchers evaluated changes in visceral fat in 3,602 participants over a 6-month period measured by a CT or MRI exam. Both exercise and medicines resulted in less visceral fat, but the reductions were more significant per pound of body weight lost with exercise.
"The location and type of fat is important. If you just measure weight or BMI, you can underestimate the benefit to your health of losing weight. Exercise can actually melt visceral fat," said Dr Neeland.
Participants in exercise trials were 65 per cent female, with a mean age of 54 and mean BMI at enrollment of 31. Exercise regimens were monitored, not self-reported. The majority of exercise trials were performed in the U.S. and Canada, while pharmacologic trials included the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Japan, and four multinational cohorts.
The medications used by study participants were FDA approved or in the FDA approval pipeline.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects nearly 40 per cent of the population worldwide.
Dr Neeland stated that researchers previously thought of fat as inert storage, but over the years this view evolved and fat is now seen as an active organ.
"Some people who are obese get heart disease, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome - and others don't. Our study suggests that a combination of approaches can help lower visceral fat and potentially prevent these diseases," added Dr Neeland.