By Tomlin Paul
In your 50s and over and perhaps even before, a big belly is often seen as a sign of contentment or prosperity. I am told that some women find 'big belly' men to be sexy. Yet many women agonise over their creeping waistline. In my recent browsing through a major bookstore, I noticed that large numbers of women's magazines had 'flatten your tummy ' or some such theme on their cover.
That seems to be a selling topic and suggests that there is real interest and concern. In the men's section, amid the pictures of cars and boats were pictures of six-pack abs! Even Tyler Perry was giving testimony as to how he worked on his tummy. So the belly issue is definitely out there!
The anatomy of a belly
Your belly features a lot in your life. Rubbing your belly after a good meal is a commendation to your host. Of course, not if you are making up your face from gripes! Give you a good joke and you are likely to laugh and scream, 'Lawd, mi belly!'
Making up that interesting structure, first on the outside is a bit of fat which you can pinch under your skin. It gets harder to pinch the more that fat builds up. Some of you might have well moved beyond pinching to 'holding' the so-called love handles or spare tyres. Under the fat, if you tighten up, you do have some muscles. The one in the centre keeps you sitting up straight and is called the rectus abdominis, taking the Latin word for straight.
Going deeper, you are inside the belly and you will meet lots of fat surrounding the internal organs, a kind of hidden bank account!
What a fat belly means
As you get past the 50s, you do have a higher chance of gaining a bit of a belly. Hormonal changes, less physical activity, slowing down of your metabolism, old eating habits and chronic stress can all contribute to pushing you to that middle-age spread.
If you have ever done an insurance medical, you will know that you can't leave until they measure your waistline. They are in the business of life and they know that bigger waistlines can make you more prone to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some cancers. Researcher Jackson and a University of the West Indies, Mona, team have also found that men with bigger waistlines have a greater risk of prostate cancer.
Get a tape measure
So as part of your personal check after coming off the bathroom scale, reach for the tape measure and see where you fall. For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches (89 cm) or more indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of problems. For men, a waist measurement of 40 inches (102 centimetres) or more is considered cause for concern.
Work with your doctor to get a more detailed assessment and then a credible and personalised plan of action. Come now, take it seriously and stop screaming, 'Lawd, mi belly!'
Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.