Slimming Down| last modified: October 11, 2010 9:14 am

Obesity and Body Fat Distribution

Where we store fat, as well as how much, can predict health risks. Some people store fat in upper-body areas. Others hold fat lower on the body. Excess fat in either place generally spells trouble, but each storage space also has its unique risks. Fat deposited in the lower body often resists being shed. However, upper-body (android) obesity is related to more cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.

High blood testosterone (a primarily male hormone) levels apparently encourage upper-body obesity, as does alcohol intake. This characteristic male pattern of fat stor­age appears in the “apple-on-a-stick” shape (large abdomen[pot belly] and small but­tocks and thighs). This type of android-related risk is assessed by simply measuring the waist at the widest point (relaxed). A waist circumference more than 40 inches in men and more than 35 inches in women indicates such a shape. If BMI is also 25 or more, health risks are significantly increased.

Estrogen and progesterone (primarily female hormones) encourage lower-body fat storage and lower-body (gynecoid or gynoid) obesity the typical female pattern. The small abdomen and much larger buttocks and thighs give a pearlike appearance. After menopause, blood estrogen falls, encouraging upper-body fat distribution.

Overall, researchers suggest that women with lower-body fat distribution must be about 20 pounds more obese than men with a “pot belly” shape before they show the same health risks from an overfat state. Only some women have upper-body obesity. Note also that the cutoff values are based on studies of Caucasians. More study of mi­norities is needed to verify use in those populations.

If you think your metabolism promotes weight gain, you may have inherited a thrifty metabolism. It is likely that this is true for many of us. As a consequence, a child with no obese parent has only a 10% chance of becoming obese. A child with one obese parent (common in North American society) has a 40% risk, and one with two obese parents has an 80% risk. It can be argued that these probabilities are re­lated, in part, to the eating behaviors a child learns.

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