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Even though too much fat is bad for your health, body fat, also known as adipose tissue, is necessary for your body to stay energized, keep warm and process certain metabolic actions. Like a squirrel stashing away nuts, the body stores white and brown fat all over the body including under the skin, around organs and within muscles. The location and type of fat determines the risks it poses to your health.
When you pinch your belly to determine how overweight you are, you're pinching your subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous means under the skin, and that is exactly where this type of fat is found. Subcutaneous fat is a white fat and its main function is to provide a layer of insulation to keep you warm. Whales and other marine mammals have a thick layer of subcutaneous fat to withstand cold ocean temperatures. Women tend to store this type of fat along their hips, thighs and buttocks, whereas men tend to store it around their mid-section.
Visceral fat is a white fat that develops around your organs. Some visceral fat is necessary to protect the organs from jarring motions, but too much of this fat will harm your organs and put you at higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular problems and mental disorders. Although a flabby mid-section is partially due to subcutaneous fat, a large belly is also the prime indicator that you have too much visceral fat. You can determine if your visceral fat is putting you at risk by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If the ratio is more than 0.85 for women or 0.95 for men, you should talk to your doctor about a weight loss program to protect your health.
When you see a piece of raw steak in the store, you'll notice white fat running through the meat. What you're seeing is intramuscular fat. Intramuscular fat serves as a fuel source for the body and provides some protection to the muscles. Unfortunately, like visceral fat, too much intramuscular fat increases a person's risk of developing diabetes. Because the heart is a muscle, high levels of this type of fat greatly increase the likelihood of cardiovascular problems.
Brown fat differs in structure from white fat. Whereas white fat has little vascularization, brown fat is filled with blood vessels. Brown fat is also crammed with energy-providing mitochondria, which allows this fat to produce heat, especially in hibernating animals. Brown fat is found throughout the body, but is most prevalent in the upper body and along the back. Although white fat makes up the greatest percentage of adipose tissue in all people, the bodies of lean people contain more brown fat than people with weight problems. Also, people living in colder climates tend to have more active brown fat than those living in warmer climates. Due to brown fat's ability to burn energy, researchers hope to find a way to use it to help people lose weight.