Body Type Helps Predict Health: 'Pear-Shaped' Not Healthier Than 'Apple'

It turns out that "body type" is good for more than just finding out what style bathing suit a women's magazine says is best for your shape.

A new study conducted by researchers at UC Davis and published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism online January 10th, refutes the previously held belief that people with "pear-shaped" bodies (with fat concentrated in their hips, thighs and butt) were at less risk for medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes than people with "apple-shaped" bodies (with fat concentrated in the body's mid-region).

The researchers found that fat concentrated in the butt may increase a person's chances of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of factors -- including a larger waistline, high blood pressure and lower "good" cholesterol -- all of which can increase one's risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. "Our research helps to dispel the myth that gluteal fat is 'innocent," said Ishwarlal Jialal, lead author of the study and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and of internal medicine at UC Davis, in a press release.

The researchers looked at a group of 45 patients with early metabolic syndrome and compared them with a control group of 30 people, matching the two for age and gender. They found that fat in your posterior raised the level of the protein chemerin -- which is associated with high blood pressure and low "good" cholesterol -- in those with early metabolic syndrome.

The UC Davis study directly contradicts the conventional wisdom that abdominal fat is the more dangerous than fat elsewhere in the body. A 2008 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that waist size was a more important factor than body weight in determining heart disease. The Interheart Study, published in 2004 and considered "one of the largest worldwide studies on heart risk factors ever," found that waist-to-hip ratio was three times more accurate at predicting heart disease risk than body mass index.

The good news, according to Jilal, is that weight loss "can reduce chemerin levels along with the risk for metabolic syndrome." However, that doesn't mean that pear-shaped folks should all run out and try to get rid of all the fat cells in their lower halves. No matter what body type you have, most experts stress that the exercise, going to the doctor regularly and eating a balanced diet are the best ways to achieve optimal health.

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