It’s healthy to have some body fat, but not all fat is created equal.

Visceral fat is a type of body fat that’s stored within the abdominal cavity. It’s located near several vital organs, including the:

  • liver
  • stomach
  • intestines

It can also build up in the arteries.

Visceral fat is sometimes referred to as “active fat” because it can actively increase the risk of serious health problems.

If you have some belly fat, that’s not necessarily visceral fat. Belly fat can also be subcutaneous fat, which is stored just under the skin.

Subcutaneous fat, the type of fat also found in the arms and legs, is easier to see. Visceral fat is actually inside the abdominal cavity and isn’t easily seen.

The only way to definitively diagnose visceral fat is with a CT or MRI scan. However, these are expensive and time-consuming procedures.

Instead, healthcare providers will typically use general guidelines to evaluate your visceral fat and the health risks it poses to your body.

According to research, about 10 percent of all body fat is visceral fat. If you calculate your total body fat and then take 10 percent of it, you can estimate the amount of visceral fat.

An easy way to determine if you may be at risk for related health problems is to measure your waist.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, if you’re a woman and your waist measures 35 inches or larger, you’re at risk for health problems from visceral fat.

Men are at risk for health problems when their waist measures 40 inches or larger.

You can’t measure your visceral fat percentage at home.

However, you can figure out your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) at home or ask your healthcare provider to determine this measurement for you.

To calculate your WHR at home, follow these instructions:

  1. Stand up straight.
  2. Find, and measure, the smallest part of your waist. It’s usually right above the belly button. This measurement is your waist circumference.
  3. Find, and measure, the widest part of your hips or buttocks. This measurement is your hip circumference.
  4. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. This is your WHR.

According to a 2008 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), citing a 2001 study, a waist-to-hip ratio above .85 for women and .90 for men indicates abdominal obesity.

It also increases the risk of metabolic complications such as diabetes.

Waist-height ratio (WHtR)

You can also use the waist-height ratio (WHtR).

According to a 2020 study, the WHtR is particularly useful for people with type 1 diabetes.

Researchers found that having a high WHtR was one of the best indicators that a person with type 1 diabetes also has a high percentage of visceral fat.

It was considered a more reliable metric than the WHR, body mass index (BMI), and a body shape index (ABSI).

Having a larger waist circumference was also strongly associated with a high visceral fat percentage.

To calculate your WHtR at home, simply divide your waist circumference by your height. You can measure in either inches or in centimeters, as long as you measure your waist and height with the same units.

An ideal WHtR is typically no greater than .50.

Visceral fat can start causing health problems immediately.

It can increase insulin resistance, even if you’ve never had diabetes or prediabetes.

Research has found that visceral fat contributes to insulin resistance. Multiple studies suggest that it’s because visceral fat secretes retinol binding protein 4 (RBP4), a protein that increases insulin resistance.

Visceral fat can also raise blood pressure quickly.

Most importantly, carrying excess visceral fat increases your risk for developing several serious and life threatening medical conditions. These include:

Visceral fat is extremely receptive to:

  • exercise
  • diet
  • other lifestyle changes that help maintain a moderate weight

With each pound that you lose, you lose some visceral fat.

Exercise

When possible, exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Make sure to include both cardio exercises and strength training.

Cardio includes aerobic exercise, such as:

It will burn fat faster.

Strength training will slowly burn more calories over time as your muscles get stronger and consume more energy.

Ideally, do 30 minutes of cardio 5 days a week and strength training at least 3 times per week.

Diet

It’s also important to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet.

As often as possible, eliminate processed, high sugar foods from your diet and include more lean proteins, vegetables, and complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes, beans, and lentils.

Low carb diets, such as the keto diet, may also help you lose visceral fat.

Discover other ways to reduce visceral fat.

Lifestyle

The stress hormone cortisol can actually increase how much visceral fat your body stores, so reducing the stress in your life will help make it easier to lose the fat.

Practice meditation, deep breathing, and other stress management tactics.

If you’re a man and your waist is more than 40 inches, or if you’re a woman and your waist is more than 35 inches, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss potential health risks and lifestyle changes.

Your doctor can use tests such as blood tests or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to check for health risks associated with high incidence of visceral fat.

They may also refer you to a nutritionist.

Visceral fat isn’t visible, so we don’t always know it’s there. That makes it that much more dangerous. On the other hand, it’s usually preventable.

Maintaining a healthy, active, low-stress lifestyle can help prevent visceral fat from building up in excess in the abdominal cavity.