Why Do Men Get Beer Bellies?

Why is it that when men gain weight, they tend to develop potbellies?

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The answer has to do with how the body stores fat. When men gain weight, the default storage place is the belly. Think of it like the trunk of a car, said Dr. Zhaoping Li, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles. Men tend to store fat behind their abdominal wall, which pushes their abs outward and creates a protruding beer belly. And as they get older, they become more likely to grow a gut. That’s because their levels of testosterone —a sex hormone that helps keep men slim— decreases

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When they run out of storage place in the belly, that’s the time the fat starts to accumulate in the liver, pancreas and muscles,” Li said. “Then, you start having real medical issues like [type 2] diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.”

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In contrast, because of estrogen, women tend to store fat in their hips and legs, especially their thighs, Li said. Fat in these storage areas can give women needed energy when they are pregnant or breast-feeding, Li said. “Women genetically have more capacity to store fat [than men do],” Li said. “That is part of our survival. “What’s more, storing fat in the hips and legs isn’t associated with the same health problems as belly fat, Li said. However, if a woman’s fat-storage areas in the hips and legs fill up, then she, too, can develop a stomach paunch. If that paunch fills up, then the body will start storing fat elsewhere, putting the woman at risk for the medical problems associated with a full potbelly.  

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It’s not necessarily beer but too many calories that can turn your trim waistline into a belly that protrudes over your pants. Any kind of calories — whether from alcohol, sugary beverages, or oversized portions of food — can increase belly fat. However, alcohol does seem to have a particular association with fat in the midsection.

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“In general, alcohol intake is associated with bigger waists, because when you drink alcohol, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat,” says Michael Jensen, MD, an endocrine expert and obesity researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

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Beer also gets the blame because alcohol calories are so easy to overdo. A typical beer has 150 calories – and if you down several in one sitting, you can end up with serious calorie overload.

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And don’t forget calories from the foods you wash down with those beers. Alcohol can increase your appetite. Further, when you’re drinking beer at a bar or party, the food on hand is often fattening fare like pizza, wings, and other fried foods.

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