What Causes the Three Layers of Fat on Women?

Woman measuring waistline

Woman have three layers of fat on their abdomens: subcutaneous, visceral and retroperitoneal. This layering trio makes up what is commonly referred to as belly fat. There are many causes for belly fat – some are controllable and some are not. Knowing what can and cannot be controlled can help women realistically manage their battle of the bulge.

Fat Layers Explained

Belly fat serves many purposes. It provides padding, protection and packing for the organs in the abdomen. The layers on top of and behind the abdominal cavity are called visceral and retroperitoneal fat. Both layers are essentially visceral type fat, as they pack, pad and protect the stomach, spleen, pancreas, intestines and other organs contained in the abdomen. On top of these two layers, just under the skin, is the subcutaneous layer. That's the fat within reach, the inch you can pinch.

Causes of Visceral Fat

Visceral fat, the padding that surrounds the viscera or organs of the abdominal area, is the result of a combination of factors including gender, genes, hormones, age, lifestyle, stress, life choices and even birth weight. Heredity plays a big role in determining women's body shape, the number of fat cells they will develop and where they will store those cells. Low birth-weight babies add fat faster as adults. Women who never bear children tend to have less visceral fat than women who have.

Causes of Subcutaneous Fat

Subcutaneous fat is the outermost layer of fat that attaches to the skin. It is designed to protect and cushion the body. Excess subcutaneous fat is the fat within reach, the love handle kind you can pinch between your thumb and index finger. This visible, tangible fat builds slowly over time and is that last fat to come off. This last on, last off fat can be blamed on overeating and lack of exercise.

Controlling Fat Development

While women cannot control many of the factors that cause both visceral and subcutaneous fat development, both types of fat respond to a combination of diet and exercise. Heredity is not necessarily destiny. Some women are predisposed to carry stored fat more in the abdomen than hips and thighs. Aging, hormones and menopause can affect waistlines. But all women can control their nutrition, lifestyle and physical activity to maintain healthy, fit and active figures.