Let’s look at what factors cause this fat in the first place. A small amount of belly fat is normal. It is a kind of pillow for bones and organs and protects them. But excess fat can be a cause for concern. Do not worry. You can get rid of any fat through exercise and a low-calorie diet.
Of course, most of us tend to blame genetics for all our troubles. But its influence is exaggerated at times (or dozens of times). Therefore, we put genetics as the last item, and start with the reasons that many of us do not pay attention to.
Listed below are the causes of belly fat in adults and teenagers.
For most of the listed reasons, the text provides links to scientific studies that confirm them.
01. Sweet food and drinks
Most people eat more sugar than they think.
Foods high in sugar are not just cakes and candies, but also “healthy” options like muffins or frozen yogurt. Soda, flavored coffee and sweet tea are among the most popular sweetened drinks.
Experimental studies have shown a link between high sugar intake and excess belly fat. For the most part, this is due to the high content of fructose in sugar (see scientific studies 3 , 4 , 5 ).
Simple sugar and corn syrup are both very high in sugar. Simple sugar is about 50% fructose, while corn syrup is 55%.
In a controlled 10-week study, obese and overweight people who consumed 25% of their calories in the form of sugary diet-supporting drinks experienced an increase in insulin sensitivity and an increase in belly fat (source 6 ).
Another study found a decrease in fat burning and a decrease in metabolic rate in people with a similar diet high in fructose (study 7 ).
Too much sugar in any form can lead to weight gain, and sugary drinks are especially problematic. Soda and other sugary drinks give the body too much sugar in a short amount of time.
Moreover, studies have shown that liquid calories have less of an effect on appetite than solid foods (sources 8 , 9 ).
Alcohol has both beneficial and harmful effects.
If you regulate the amount, especially red wine, you can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes (see source 10 ).
However, high alcohol intake can lead to liver inflammation or disease, as well as other health problems ( 11 ).
Some studies have shown that alcohol inhibits fat burning, and excess calories from alcohol are partly converted into belly fat – hence the term “beer belly” ( 12 ).
Research has found a link between high alcohol consumption and weight gain around the middle of the body. One study found that men who drank more than three drinks a day were 80% more likely to develop belly fat than those who drank less alcohol ( 13 , 14 ).
The amount of alcohol consumed in a 24-hour period also matters.
Another study showed that those who drink daily, but less than one drink a day, have on average less belly fat than those who drink less, but drink more than four drinks on “drinking days” (study 15 ).
Trans fats are the most unhealthy fats on the planet.
They are formed when hydrogen is added to unsaturated fats to make them more stable.
Trans fats generally extend the life of packaged foods such as muffins, baking mixes, and crackers.
Trans fats also cause inflammation. This can lead to insulin resistance, heart disease, and various other conditions ( 16 , 17 , 18 , 19 ).
Also, based on animal studies, it is suggested that diets containing trans fats may lead to gradual belly fat formation (studies 20 , 21 ).
At the end of the 6-year study, monkeys on an 8% trans fat diet gained weight and had 33% more body fat than monkeys on an 8% monounsaturated fat diet, despite both groups having enough calories to gain weight. (See study 21 ).
04. Sedentary lifestyle
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main risk factors for the deterioration of your health (source 22 ).
Over the past few decades, people have become less mobile. This greatly affects the increase in the number of people suffering from obesity. Including belly fat.
A large survey in 1988-2010 in the USA found that there was a strong decrease in the activity of people, the average weight and abdominal girth of women and men increased ( 23 ).
Another observational study compared women who watched more than three hours of TV per day with women who watched less than 1 hour per day.
The group that watched more TV had almost double the risk of suffering from belly fat compared to the group that watched less TV ( 24 ).
One study also showed that a sedentary lifestyle promotes the recovery of belly fat after weight loss.
This study found that people who did endurance or aerobic exercise within a year of losing weight did not recover belly fat, while those who did not exercise increased belly fat by 25-38% (study 25 ).
A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main causes of belly fat. If you do not bother yourself with physical activity, but prefer to spend time sitting, watching TV, reading, etc. – this is called a sedentary lifestyle. Lack of regular exercise, or no exercise at all, can lead to the accumulation of fat around the abdomen.
If you don’t know where to start, watch the video for home workouts:
05. Slow Metabolism
According to studies, the body’s metabolism slows down with age, which leads to the formation of belly fat. Women are more prone to belly fat than men. Slow metabolism is another reason for fat.
You need to warn your friends who eat a lot of sweet, fried and cold drinks. If they have a high metabolism, then it will be easy for them to lose weight, and a flat tummy will not take long. If not, then fat deposits will not keep you waiting.
The reason for a slow metabolism can be thyroid disease, diabetes and other diseases.
But, before you run to the doctors, do not forget that the metabolism slows down in people with low physical activity (that is, we are talking more about the previous paragraph 04 about a sedentary lifestyle). Strength training speeds up the metabolism. Don’t be alarmed, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with lifting barbells, etc.
06. Stress and Hypertension
Cortisol is a hormone that we need to survive.
It is produced by the adrenal glands and is known as the “stress hormone” because it helps your body respond to stress.
Unfortunately, it can lead to weight gain if produced in excess, especially in the abdomen.
For many people, stress leads to overeating. But instead of storing this surplus of calories as fat throughout the body, cortisol promotes fat storage in the belly (sources 46 , 47 ).
Interestingly, women who have a larger waist-to-hip ratio will release more cortisol during times of stress (source 48 ).
Most women suffering from diabetes, breast cancer, sleep apnea, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, strokes, metabolic syndrome, store belly fat.
08. Sagging muscles
If your muscles around your belly are sagging, then this can lead to belly fat. All you need to do for a slender waist is to keep your stomach in good shape.
09. Bad posture
Slouching is a common cause of fat accumulation in the body. Learn to sit up straight from childhood. Sitting with an arched back or spine can lead to the accumulation of fat around the abdominal area.
If you eat too much, it will inevitably lead to weight gain and belly fat. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, overeating can lead to serious consequences.
Basically, belly fat is the colloquial term for abdominal fat. According to medical experts, belly fat is potentially very dangerous. Excess fat can lead to a number of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, low levels of good cholesterol, and can lead to angina or sleep apnea. You need to start fighting this problem now, before it’s too late.
11. Hormonal changes, menopause
Gaining belly fat during menopause is very common.
In women, starting in middle age, the percentage of body fat increases with weight. During menopause, when estrogen levels drop and androgens or male hormones rise, the risk of storing fat around the waist increases. In fact, hormones regulate the concentration of fat in the body, and your figure depends on them.
During puberty, the female hormone estrogen begins to signal the body to start accumulating fat on the thighs in preparation for a possible pregnancy. This subcutaneous fat is not harmful, but sometimes it is quite difficult to get rid of it (original source 34 ).
Officially, menopause occurs one year after a woman’s last menstrual period.
Around this time, estrogen levels drop, causing fat to begin to be deposited on the abdomen instead of the thighs ( 35 , 36 ).
Some women gain more belly fat during this period than others. This may be partly due to genetics, as well as the age at which menopause begins. One study found that women who went through menopause at a young age were less likely to accumulate belly fat ( 37 ).
12. Wrong gut bacteria
There are hundreds of types of bacteria living in your gut, especially in your colon. Some bacteria are good for the body, and some can cause problems.
Gut health plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy immune system and preventing disease. The bacteria in your gut is also called the gut flora or microbiome.
Imbalances in the intestinal flora increase the risks of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases (source 38 ).
Several studies have shown that an unhealthy balance of intestinal flora can lead to weight gain and belly fat.
Researchers have found that obese people tend to have more Firmicutes bacteria than people of normal weight. Scientists hypothesize that this type of bacteria reproduces more with a higher intake of dietary calories (research 39 , 40 ).
One animal study found that bacteria-free mice gained significantly more fat when they received faecal transplants of bacteria associated with obesity than mice that received bacteria associated with thinness (study 40 ).
Studies on lean and fat twins and their mothers have confirmed that there is a common core of gut flora among families that can influence weight gain, including where weight is deposited (source 41 ).
13. Fruit juices
Fruit juice is a sweet drink with a disguise.
Unsweetened 100% fruit juice contains a huge amount of sugar.
In fact, 250 ml of apple juice and cola contain the same amount of sugar – 24 grams. The same amount of grape juice contains 32 grams of sugar (see original sources 42 , 43 , 44 ).
While fruit juice contains healthy vitamins and minerals, the fructose it contains can lead to insulin resistance and belly fat ( 45 ).
The danger is that this is another (after the sugary drinks mentioned) source of “liquid” calories, which you can easily consume too much, yet it may not be enough to satisfy your appetite as with the same amount of solid food ( 8 , 9 ). You can absorb a huge amount of calories with juice, which will not lead to a feeling of satiety. You just don’t notice them. And belly fat grows.
14. Diets low in fiber
Fiber is very important for good health and weight control.
Some types of fiber help you feel full, stabilize hunger hormones, and reduce the absorption of calories from food (see studies 49 , 50 ).
In one study of 1114 men and women, soluble fiber intake was associated with a reduction in belly fat. For every 10-gram increase in fiber intake, there was a 3.7% decrease in belly fat storage (study 51 ).
Diets high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber have the opposite effect on appetite and weight gain, including increased belly fat (studies 52 , 53 , 54 ).
One large study found that high-fiber whole grains were associated with a reduction in belly fat, while refined grains were associated with an increase in belly fat ( 54 ).
15. Sleep deprivation
Getting enough sleep is critical to your health.
Many studies have linked lack of sleep to weight gain, including belly fat (eg studies 60 , 61 , 62 ).
One huge study followed 68,000 women from the age of 16.
Those who slept 5 hours or less a day were 32% more likely to gain 15 kilograms than those who slept 7 hours or more (source 63 ).
Sleep disturbances can also lead to weight gain. One of the most common diseases is sleep apnea, in which breathing stops repeatedly during the night due to soft tissues that block the airways.
One study found that obese men with sleep apnea had more belly fat than non-obese men (study 64 ).
Genes strongly influence obesity risks (source 55 ).
It is believed that the tendency to accumulate fat in the abdomen partly depends on genetics (see scientific sources 56 , 57 , 58 ).
The number of fat cells deposited largely depends on your genes. If your parents or grandparents are predisposed to belly fat, you are also likely to be predisposed.
However, this reason is placed here as the last point, although many people tend to consider genetics for themselves as the first and only cause of belly fat .
But first, try to remember how many mistakes in nutrition and lifestyle your ancestors made during their lives. Did they really eat right all their lives, lead a healthy lifestyle? Did they really do everything right and only “evil genetics” added a dozen or two kilograms of excess weight to them?
Yes, it is true that genetics is one of the factors in fat formation. More specifically, the accumulation of belly fat depends in part on a gene in the receptors that regulates cortisol levels in the body, and a gene that regulates the leptin receptor, which regulates calorie intake and weight (source 58 ).
You can have an apple-shaped or pear-shaped body structure. The accumulation of fat occurs differently for different people, in fact, depends on the structure of the body. In pear-shaped people, fat usually accumulates in the lower part of the body, such as the buttocks. But in people with an apple-shaped body structure, the body tends to store fat in the central part of the body, which leads to the deposition of fat in the abdomen. You should know that there are two types of belly fat – visceral, which is deposited around the abdominal organs, and subcutaneous, which is deposited between the skin and the abdominal wall.
In 2014, researchers discovered 3 new genes that increase waist-to-hip ratio and belly fat. In addition, 2 genes have only been found in women (source 59 ).
However, more research needs to be done in this area to be sure.
Track your diet and count what and how much you eat
What you eat is important. Everyone knows this.
However, most people have no idea what they are actually eating.
People think they are eating “high protein” or “low carb” food or whatever, but tend to grossly over- or underestimate.
We believe that for anyone who really wants to optimize their diet, it is very important to monitor their nutrition.
This does not mean that you have to weigh and count everything for the rest of your life, but if you do it today and for several days in a row, you can understand where changes need to be made.
If you want to increase your protein intake to 25-30% of your daily calories, then just eating protein-rich foods is not enough. You will need to calculate everything and fine-tune the menu for the result
Measurement of belly fat
Previously, belly fat was considered quite healthy. It was perceived as a storage of adipose tissue, which we can use when the body needs additional energy. Over time, the outlook has changed. Researchers claim that excess belly fat causes cardiovascular disease. So it is very important to evaluate the amount of belly fat and check how much you need to get rid of. Here are a few parameters for judging your waistline.
1) Body mass index (BMI)
This is the ratio of your body weight in kilograms x the square of your height in meters. This parameter allows doctors to judge whether a person will suffer from heart disease or strokes in the future. Those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, while those with a BMI over 30 are obese. However, this parameter is not always accurate in measuring belly fat. In fact, you can measure your belly fat with a simple measuring tape in front of a mirror, setting your own belly fat goals. Looking in the mirror and checking yourself regularly will motivate you to get rid of unhealthy belly fat.
2) Waist to hip ratio
Grab a calculator. To measure this parameter as accurately as possible, find the point where your waist is the narrowest and measure, and then find the widest point on the hips and measure. Divide the resulting measurement values and you will get the desired ratio. This index is more accurate than BMI. Those with a waist-to-hip ratio greater than 0.8 are more prone to cardiovascular disease and stroke.
3) Waist size
As we said before, measuring your waist with a tape is the easiest way to check belly fat. Measure your torso at the level of your belly button. The official recommendation is to measure the belly just above the pelvic bone or iliac crest, where they intersect with a line that falls vertically from the middle of the right armpit. During measurements, breathe evenly, do not tighten the measuring tape too much. People with a waist size of more than 84 centimetres have a greater risk of developing chronic heart disease. Not only does belly fat make you look really bad, it’s also very unhealthy. A sedentary lifestyle and malnutrition contribute to its formation. However, don’t worry, you can start doing certain strength exercises to get the flat tummy you want.