The real issue is not if you are fat, but where the fat’s gone
So you’ve put on weight – that happens when humans spend too much time in the good paddock. But the real issue is where the fat’s gone – to your belly, to your hips or to places unknown.
The average punter typically has around 50 billion fat cells stored in various depots throughout the body. The main ones are around the organs of the trunk (what's called visceral or internal fat); around the waist (called subcutaneous abdominal fat); and on the hips and buttocks (subcutaneous gluteal fat). Visceral fat tends to be much more closely linked with disease than the other type of subcutaneous belly fat that makes up a ‘pot belly’. Visceral fat is generally correlated with abdominal fat and can usually be picked up in waist circumference measures (so get that tape out).
Research shows that where you get fat depends largely on the genes you’ve inherited from your parents. ‘Apple’ or ‘pear-shaped’ people have parents that are generally shaped the same, and particular genes control for this. It means that no matter how you try, if you’re a natural pear, and you lose a good amount of weight, you’ll probably just become a smaller pear – never a smaller apple.
Asians may have more visceral fat than Caucasians. In one study from the International Journal of Obesity, it’s been shown that Japanese men have a higher proportion of visceral to subcutaneous abdominal fat than Caucasian men at the same level of overall body fatness. This is important because it has long been known that Asians have a higher health risk than Caucasians even if they have the same waist measurement and BMI.
Exercise decreases abdominal fat more than diet. A US study examined the question of whether a diet alone, or a diet with low or high intensity exercise has a differential effect on different fat cell depots. Obese women were given a low calorie diet, or a diet with exercise that amounted to the same number of calories as the diet alone. Fat cells in different parts of the body were examined to see if each of these regimes affected fat cells differently. The researchers found this was indeed the case. Although all groups lost about the same amount of weight, those given the exercise program as well as the diet tended to lose more from the subcutaneous fat cells around the waist, suggesting that these respond somehow differently to other fat cells. Because these are more linked to disease risk in women, this suggests that exercise might have a greater benefit for health improvements than diet in obese women.
Dr Garry Egger aka Prof Trim
For more information on weigh loss for men, check out Professor Trim.