Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Too much belly fat may up risk of kidney disease, say experts

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People with a lot of belly fat seem to have an increased risk of developing kidney disease, says new research – but it's unclear why.

A study appearing in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that having an "apple-shaped" body – one in which fat is mainly concentrated in the abdominal area – was associated with reduced kidney function, reduced kidney blood flow and higher blood pressure in the organ.

The National Library of Medicine defines kidney disease as as a gradual loss of kidney function, which means the body slow loses its ability to remove waste and excess fluid. There's no cure, and if it goes untreated, kidney disease can become end-stage renal disease, which is deadly.

The lead author of the study, Arjan Kwakernaak, noted that it doesn't matter what a person's overall weight is, just where that weight is concentrated on the body.

"We found that apple-shaped persons – even if totally healthy and with a normal blood pressure – have an elevated blood pressure in their kidneys," he said in a statement. "When they are also overweight or obese, this is even worse."

The latest numbers from L.A. County health officials estimate that in South Los Angeles, around 1 in 3 adults are obese. That's the second-highest rate among the county's eight service planning areas, and marks a 36-percent increase since 1997.

But that pales in comparison to the estimates of Gabrielle Guzman, who's a nutritionist at T.H.E. Clinic in South L.A.

"I would say that about 85 percent of the patients that I see are obese, and on top of obese do have a higher incidence of belly fat," she said.

Those tend to be the people who eat a lot of fast food, experience a lot of stress and don't do a lot of exercising, said Guzman.

"My patients tend to skip meals because of a hectic lifestyle," she explained. "So they skip meals and their bodies go into starvation mode, and by the time they do eat they're out running errands or sitting at home and don't want to invest time in making something. So because they're so hungry from skipping meals, they'll overeat."

Which could mean snacking until you're stuffed (often without realizing how much you've eaten) or eating big portions of fast food.

Belly fat on its own is bad, but it's a problem in South L.A. in particular, where so many chronic conditions overlap in the same patient.

"My patients are usually coming in because they have more than one issue," said Guzman. "They all kind of go hand-in-hand: diabetes, high blood pressure, renal failure. Their self-esteem has taken a hit. So when I see them with that weight, there's usually some kind of ailment going on other than just obesity."

Diabetes and high blood pressure are both prevalent in South L.A. and are both common causes of kidney disease. Belly fat's potential spot on that list of causes only adds to the bad publicity it's been getting: Last year, studies linked extra fat around the waistline to bone loss in men and reduced cognitive function in seniors.

Guzman said patient education in terms of how to keep their weight down and manage other conditions is crucial. Reading nutrition labels, watching portion sizes and exercising regularly are all ways to keep lifestyle habits in check, she said – and if someone has questions, they should visit a clinic and talk to an actual health provider.

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