1 February 2010

You may be overweight but if you're pear shaped, your fat may be protecting you from certain diseases! We've heard this before: fat around the hips, buttocks, and thighs is not as bad for you as fat around the middle of the body. Now some researchers have looked at the research on this issue and come up with some reasons why lower body fat is better than fat around the middle. They've also found that not only is low body fat not bad for you, it may even be protective!

  •  Fat in the lower body seems to act as fat storage rather then sending fats out into the bloodstream.
  •  People with more low body fat have lower cholesterol and blood sugar so their risk for heart disease and diabetes are lower.
  •  People with more low body fat have lower "cytokine" levels. Cytokines increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation damages tissues. Inflammation also increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Having more fat around the middle of your body - better known as the beer belly - puts you at great risk for heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation.

So how do you know if your body fat is healthy? Get out the tape measure and compare the size of your waist to the size of your hips. You're looking at your "waist to hip ratio".

  •  Measure your waist at the smallest point - usually at the naval or just tapemeasureabove it
  •  Measure you hips at the widest, largest part
  •  Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement (Waist Measurement √∑ Hip Measurement)
  •  Men: .99 or lower is good
  •  Women: .90 or lower is good

 Does this mean that if you are overweight but pear shaped you don't have to worry? When does too much body fat in any location become a problem? If you have high cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, or osteoarthritis than some weight loss may be in order. But the good news is that you can be healthy with some extra weight - if it's in the right place!

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Manolopoulos KN, Karpe F, Frayn KN. Gluteofemoral body fat as a determinant of metabolic health. Int J Obes 2010; advance online publication.