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Why Do Skinny People Have Belly Fat?

author image Linda Tarr Kent
Linda Tarr Kent is a reporter and editor with more than 20 years experience at Gannett Company Inc., The McClatchy Company, Sound Publishing Inc., Mach Publishing, MomFit The Movement and other companies. Her area of expertise is health and fitness. She is a Bosu fitness and stand-up paddle surfing instructor. Kent holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Washington State University.
Why Do Skinny People Have Belly Fat?
A slim woman with belly fat. Photo Credit: 9nong/iStock/Getty Images

Fat in the abdomen causes more health risks than fat in other locations in the body. Even people who are not considered overweight can have excess belly fat. Several factors can cause a person to pack on pounds in the midsection, even if she is otherwise slim. Such people still have increased risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

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Lack of Exercise

A person who uses diet but not exercise to keep slim can have large deposits of visceral fat, fat that surrounds his organs, the Associated Press reports. Often this person will not have a bigger middle, so he will not know that his body has too much fat.


The term “TOFI”--thin outside but fat inside--was coined by Dr. Jimmy Bell, molecular imaging professor at Imperial College in London, the Associated Press reports. Many TOFIs eat foods with too much sugar and saturated fat, but do not eat enough calories to gain excess weight. Such people might be predisposed to deposit fat deep in the belly first, where it is not as visible.

BMI Doesn't Pinpoint

A person with a “normal” body mass index, or BMI, who has fat deep inside the belly is less likely to worry about his weight. BMI, however, does not always pinpoint visceral fat.


Hormonal changes after menopause sometimes change the way a woman’s body breaks down and stores fat. This can cause more fat to accumulate in her belly. Fat distribution shifts in postmenopausal women, placing more fat in the abdomen and less in the hips, thighs and arms. Some women will gain belly fat but not weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.


People often gain belly fat as they age because the body’s metabolism slows as the years go by. This leads to slow increases in the amount of body fat. The fat percentage increases more for women than for men, especially during postmenopausal years, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Some people just gain belly fat before hip or thigh fat due to heredity. Unfortunately this type of fat can produce hormones that harm the body’s overall health. Researchers are still seeking answers to how big the impact of fat-cell-produced hormones is, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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