Despite the belief that carrying fat around the thighs, hip and buttocks can have a protective effect against heart disease, new research suggests that losing weight from all areas of the body might be more beneficial for health.
Carried out by Dr. Peter Clifton, a professor of nutrition at the University of South Australia and a researcher at the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the study set out to assess how changes in body fat in different areas could affect the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Although an oft-cited 2010 study found that fat around the thigh, hip and buttocks fat may protect against heart disease and diabetes, other studies have provided conflicting results.
“If you are a person who keeps most of your fat in these protective regions and you decide to lose weight, are you gaining any benefit from this weight loss? Or are you doing yourself harm in terms of cardiovascular disease?” said Dr. Clifton.
For the new research, Dr. Clifton analyzed data from seven previous studies which had looked at weight loss in a total of 399 participants.
After measuring the levels of various risk markers for cardiovascular disease, including insulin, total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (also known as “bad” cholesterol), and blood pressure, Dr. Clifton found that losing fat and muscle in the thighs, hips and buttocks was “directly associated” with beneficial changes in these markers.
“The bottom line is that any weight loss, regardless of whether it is fat or lean, backside or abdomen, reduces cardiovascular risk factors,” Clifton said. “For lowering cholesterol, losing leg fat is just as important as losing abdominal fat.”
In addition, Dr. Clifton found that losing lean tissue or muscle in the thighs, hips and backside posed no harm. “I found that quite interesting,” commented Dr. Clifton, adding that doctors should not “worry about getting patients to exercise to minimize their muscle loss. … You can just focus on losing weight first. Then when [patients] are lighter, get them to increase exercise.”
Dr. Robert Eckel, an endocrinologist and physician-scientist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who was not involved in the study, commented that he was surprised by Dr. Clifton’s findings, adding that additional studies are now needed to better understand the impact on health of losing body fat in certain areas.
However, both agree that weight loss is beneficial for health, and in Dr. Clifton’s opinion, patients who lose weight “should not worry about where your fat is coming off — all fat loss is good, at least for the heart.”
Guidelines recommend that overweight and obese patients should lose at least 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight to have a positive impact on blood pressure, glucose tolerance, diabetes control and cholesterol.
The results can be found published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association. JB
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