Five Urgent Reasons to Lose That Weight in '08

The latest research on body fat shows that it doesn't just sit there innocently.

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Your spare tire, researchers have discovered, is very likely making serious mischief. When you carry around an overabundance of fat, your body's normal processes can go awry, causing widespread inflammation and insulin resistance, for example. The result? Often, it's disease and dysfunction.

1. Cancer prevention begins with your waistline, say experts who released guidelines earlier this year. Your best defense? Stay as lean as possible within the normal range to protect yourself against six cancers that have been linked to extra fat—esophageal, pancreatic, colorectal, breast (in postmenopausal women), endometrial, and kidney—and possibly gallbladder cancer as well.

2. When your body's tissues become resistant to insulin—which helps usher glucose out of the bloodstream into the cells—you're vulnerable to hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Plus the pancreas is forced to pump out extra insulin, which, along with an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, can cause weight gain.

3. As fat stores grow, so does their release of leptin, an important hormone sent out by fat that normally signals your body to stop eating and to burn more energy. But once a certain threshold is hit, the brain can't see the message anymore, and the body thinks it's in starvation mode. Response: You eat more and move less.

4. Excess fat tissue starts spewing a stream of inflammatory factors into the bloodstream. Chronically, this causes the blood vessels to become inflamed and lays the groundwork for atherosclerosis.

5. Fat deposits start getting packed away in places they were never meant to be—like your liver, muscles, and deep in the gut, wrapped around vital organs. In the liver, for example, fat deposits can cause rampant inflammation and scarring that can lead to liver failure.

*Get the whole story on how that extra baggage may be setting you up for disaster—and six tips on how to drop the weight.