New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Pregnant Men?

They booze till dawn and munch kilos of roast meat daily. And before they know it, these men look like they have swallowed a pot, writes Carol Natukunda

Some men must be pregnant. Or they probably have worms. Sounds funny, but just how else can we explain a man with a tummy protruding to the size of a basket?

Okay, before you attack us for being insensitive, we shall excuse those whose tummies have bulged because of illnesses. But the potbelly, or 'beer belly' syndrome seems to have caught Ugandan young men unawares.

Even the Police chief Kale Kayihura is worried for his officers. A few months ago, Kayihura gave a six-month ultimatum to his officers with potbellies to trim them, lest they miss out on likely promotions. Kayihura, who describes bulging tummies as excessive luggage, feels the tummies are affecting his boys' level of efficiency.

It is not just about Policemen. Last month, we saw the new Uganda National Examinations Board chairman, Fagil Mandy, drilling the scouts in rigorous exercise to help them cut this baggage. Mandy, in fact, pleaded with all able companies to build gyms for staff - and all schools to reinstate physical exercises to curb this pot belly and fat syndrome.

A potbelly was once a sign of prestige, but not anymore. Four out of five men that Sunday Vision randomly talked to, confessed that while they are not self-conscious about their weight, the biggest body issue for them is the "beer belly."

A man with a potbelly is often branded as 'corrupt' implying that he must have embezzled so much money and that his stomach swelled because he spent much of it on food that he ate carelessly. Other people remark slyly: "oh, he must love his beer."

Matt Ogwal, a 25-year-old research analyst, parties hard on weekends, usually drinking 12 beers on a Friday evening. He has no family history of obesity. But he worries he might get the beer belly. "I don't mind putting on weight minimally," says Ogwal. "But if it is only the tummy, God forbid!"

And just when we thought women are only focused on their own bodies, the responses we got when we randomly talked to them about men with beer bellies included: "Gosh," that tummy! "Not cool!"

What causes a beer belly?

But is it really beer and pork that causes a "beer belly"? Not all beer drinkers have them. In fact, some non-boozers spot very large ones too. So what really causes men, and some women, to develop this infamous paunch?

According to experts, any kind of calories - whether from alcohol, soda, or oversized portions of food - can increase belly fat. A calorie is a unit of energy or weight got from the meal you consume.

Dr. Annet Baryayanga, a physician at Kampala Healthcare and Diagnostic Centre on Lumumba Avenue, says occasionally drinking beer will not cause a beer belly. However, if you drink beer very often, you consume more calories and more fluid is retained in the stomach until it is eventually filtered and excreted by the kidney through urine. "This causes the stomach to bulge, because it is a prolonged process," explains Baryayanga.

"Anything fatty can cause a pot belly, but you are at greater risk with alcohol, because it has more calories. It also means that body organs are now focused on eliminating the alcohol, than burning down the excess fat in your tummy," she explains.

Beer also gets the blame for bulging belly fat because a typical glass of beer is said to contain about 150 calories. So if you drink several litres of beer every night, how many extra calories will you be taking in the months and years down the road? And what will these calories do to your weight?

"Don't forget alcohol makes you hungry and increases your appetite and you end up eating more and more," explains Baryayanga.

Further, when you are drinking beer, the food on hand is often fattening fare like pizza, chicken wings, fries and pork, which do not help matters.

Why fat accumulates in the belly:

According to Dr. Onesmus Kitenda, a general medical practitioner in private practice in Entebbe, where your body stores that fat is determined in part by your age, sex and hormones.

"Women naturally have more subcutaneous fat (under the skin fat) than men, so those extra fat calories tend to be deposited in their arms, thighs and buttocks as well as their bellies. Because men have less subcutaneous fat, they store more in their bellies," says Kitenda.

He explains further, that beer bellies tend to be more prominent in older people because as you get older, you often become less active, and gaining weight gets easier.

What's wrong with a beer belly?

Several studies link it to diabetes, high blood pressure, liver damage and other cardiovascular diseases.

"The fat that you have around your waist and on your thighs, hips and buttocks is not as dangerous as the fat that is found deep within the abdominal cavity surrounding your organs. The latter can block your veins," explains Kitenda. Socially, a beer or a pot belly is not only an unhealthy asset; it is an unflattering sight among your peers.

Losing your belly:

There is no magical way to tackle belly fat other than physical exercise. Drinking less alcohol is a good place to start. "At most, one should be taking only two bottles of beer in one sitting. Eat a healthy meal before or with your drinks to help you resist the temptation of fatty foods," says Kitenda.

Doing sit-ups, crunches, or other abdominal exercises will strengthen your core muscles and help you deal with it. Aerobic exercises like running, swimming, cycling and tennis are some of the best to tame the tummy.

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