Thursday, June 23, 2016

HIV-Related Belly Fat: More Than Just an Appearance Issue

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

Excess belly fat, known in medical circles as VAT (visceral adipose tissue), is a type of hard fat that can affect people living with HIV-infection. Research has shown that between 20% and 30% of HIV-positive patients are experiencing excess VAT. For years, there’s been a common misconception that this belly fat is just a physical cosmetic issue that is a side effect of earlier HIV treatments – something that must be accepted as a reality of now living longer with HIV-infection. Recent research dispels that myth so that even with newer anti-retro viral regimens this condition continues to exist.

Man looking in mirror at his excessive belly fat, with the caption "Object in mirror may be more important than it appears"
Photo Source: Don't Take VAT
"Don’t Take VAT" is an educational initiative supported by the ADAP Advocacy Association, that is shedding light on excess belly fat and the medical complications it can potentially create in order to help people living with HIV-infection learn about the condition, how to identify it, and what questions to ask their doctor. Since VAT is a type of hard fat that can surround a person’s organs and make it difficult for people to do things like bend over to tie their shoes or breath normally, the ramifications of this type of belly fat go far beyond the emotional strain caused by the stigma of carrying VAT. Excess abdominal VAT is also associated with a variety of health concerns, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which is why it’s important for patients to talk to their doctor about it.

Far too often, people with HIV believe the doughy fat around one’s midsection can be addressed by a healthy diet and exercise alone. But VAT doesn’t work that way. It can be challenging to reduce VAT with exercise and healthy living alone. The "Don’t Take VAT" website – – includes fact sheets about VAT and healthy living with HIV, as well as a video that provides a deeper look at VAT and tips about what to ask your doctor.

A doctor can determine if a person has excess abdominal VAT by assessing the individual’s medical history and HIV therapy regimen and by measuring around a patient’s waist and hips and calculating waist-to-hip ratio. But this often requires a patient’s willingness to make such a request, as often even doctors mistake VAT for regular belly fat and don’t always conduct this type of assessment during routine medical appointments.

While having excess HIV-related belly fat can cause physical, medical and emotional difficulties, nobody should feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. It is important that you take ownership of your own health and take the first step toward talking to your doctor and examining your treatment option.

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