Is Belly Fat A Hereditary Problem?

Belly fat is unsightly, but it can also be unhealthy. Too much abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, is linked to a wide variety of health issues, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Excess visceral fat is linked to a high risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes and, in women, can lead to breast cancer and gallbladder problems. Additionally, visceral fat's location near the portal vein is troubling because free fatty acids and other substances released by visceral fat can travel through the vein and into the liver, leading to high cholesterol and other health problems.

There are a number of causes of belly fat, including age, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, and poor sleep habits (via WebMD). However, there could be a more sinister culprit that you weren't even aware of: your genes. If you have family members who are overweight, then there's a chance that you could be as well.

Is the fat gene to blame?

Genetics can determine a wide range of traits in a person, including hair color, eye color, and height (via Medical News Today). They can also determine some genetic disorders, such as sickle-cell anemia or Huntington's disease. However, there is one particular gene that some feel could play a role in obesity. This is the fat mass and obesity-associated gene or FTO gene, and certain people with this gene are at a 20% to 30% higher risk of obesity (via WebMD). Additionally, a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a variation in a gene called ankyrin-B caused fat cells in mice to absorb glucose faster than normal.

However, just because you may have some of the genes that lead to obesity, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll pack on the pounds. In a 2018 study published in Nature Genetics, researchers at King's College London found that genes influenced only 17.9% of gut processes. The other 67.7% could be attributed to environmental factors, diet in particular.

Lifestyle changes are still the best way to go

Although your genes could be working against your waistline, your best defense still remains diet and exercise (via WebMD). Ideally, you should try to work in approximately two hours or so of moderate exercise, even brisk walking, each week. Keeping track and cutting calories is also a tried and true method. Even dropping 500 to 1,000 calories from your daily intake could help you drop up to two pounds a week.

Stress can also be a factor in the accumulation of belly fat, as high levels of cortisol can be a factor in abdominal fat deposits, according to The American Institute of Stress. On top of that, stress leads people to seek out high-carb and sugary foods to relieve their anxiety. This cycle of stress-eating, combined with a genetic predisposition towards weight gain can create major problems for your midsection.

Age can also be a detriment to your waistline (via WebMD). As you get older, your muscle mass begins to decrease and your metabolism slows, preventing you from burning the same amount of calories as you once did. For women, the problem is compounded by a loss of estrogen, which can cause extra pounds to build up in the midsection.

If you can eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, reduce your calorie intake, get proper sleep and reduce your stress, you should be able to keep your belly fat under control, no matter what your genes are telling you.