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Obesity: waist not, but okay behind.

Obesity: Waist not, but okay behind

A big belly may be more hazardous to your heart than a fat butt. That's the warning from a team of researchers who find that the distribution of body fat is just as important as a person's overall weight when it comes to risky blood levels of cholesterol and fatty acids.

Scientists first reported in 1956 that women whose fat concentrates around the waist -- an apple-shaped distribution of fat usually seen in men -- are more likely to suffer diabetes and atherosclerosis than women with the more common pear-shaped, or lower-body, fat distribution. In the early 1980s, researchers linked upper-body obesity to diabetes and heart disease in both men and women (SN: 1/26/85, p.57).

In the latest study, detailed in the May CIRCULATION, David S. Freedman of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and his colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee measured the levels of blood fats in 1,124 healthy men and women. They found the men more likely to show several risk factors for heart disease: significantly elevated levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides; higher concentrations and low-density lipoprotein (the "bad" cholesterol carrier); and substantially lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (the "good" cholesterol carrier).

These gender differences persisted even when the researchers adjusted for such factors as the men's greater alcohol consumption and higher rate of obesity. But when the team took into account that the men's body fat generally concentrated in a "spare tire" around the waist, while most women concentrated their fat in the buttocks and thighs, the differences in the blood tests made sense.

"What makes our study unique is that it is the first to examine whether the male/female differences in body-fat distribution could account for the differences in blood fats," Freedman says. In an editorial accompanying the research report, Deborah L. Wingard of the University of California, San Diego, asserts that if the upper-body obesity noted in Freedman's study is similarly linked to risk factors for other diseases, pear-shaped individuals who are only 10 to 20 pounds overweight may not have to worry about the health consequences of their weight as much as apple-shaped people. "Perhaps we should be counting 'apples' and 'pears,' not men and women," Wingard writes. "By understanding these gender differences in coronary heart disease risk, we may be better able to counsel all individuals on how to reduce their risk."
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Title Annotation:distribution of body fat and health
Publication:Science News
Date:May 26, 1990
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