How Body Fat Harms: The Growing Science Behind “Fat Location”

October 22, 2014

Overweight? According to U.S. Government statistics, you’re not alone. More than two out of three adults are overweight or obeseBut researchers suspect that the risk to health may be less about how much fat you have then where you have it, a spreading theory summarized in a 2014 article in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. The thinking is that typical subcutaneous (beneath the skin) belly fat, the kind that protrudes around the midsection, is less of a health risk than deeper layers of fat in the abdomen and around organs where it doesn't belong.


Such out-of-place fat is called ectopic fat and it produces inflammatory and other chemicals with harmful effects both systemically and locally on nearby organs and tissues, including negative influences on insulin resistance, glucose and lipid metabolism, clotting, and inflammation. Examples: deeper belly fat is strongly linked to metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk; fat around the neck, to systemic vascular resistance, meaning constriction of blood vessels that causes the heart to work harder; fat in and around the kidneys may harm renal function and contribute to hypertension; and excess fat around the heart’s coronary arteries could alter these critical cardiac blood vessels.


“Both obese and apparently lean individuals can have ectopic fat,” researchers say, and thus “regional fat distribution may play an important role in the development of cardiovascular diseases in both nonobese and obese people.”


Learn more about the research below:

National Institute of Health, Overweight and Obesity Statistics.

Ectopic and Perivascular Fat: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Consequences.

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