When it comes to your health, what’s most important isn’t how much fat you have, but where your fat is at. A new study by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, has tracked 12,785 Americans for 14 years, recording not only their body-mass index (BMI), but also their waist-to-hip ration (WHR) — what pudge you have in the gut. The study found that people who were of normal weight but had love handles or stomach pudge were over twice as likely to die early.
That means that even the obese members of the study are safer than those of normal weight but of heavy bellies. Obesity accounted for 1.4 times increase of deaths in the study, whereas pudgy bellies accounted for 2.1 times increase in deaths.
That this is so seems surprising to many, and requires further studies to confirm it, but why this is so is equally unclear. Lopez-Jimenez has noted that visceral fat (stomach fat) is correlated to instigations of insulin-resistance, which can cause diabetes. “The fact that visceral fat is next to the gut makes it highly active from a metabolic standpoint,” says Lopez-Jimenez. “So that, by itself, would cause inflammation [and] insulin resistance.”
Fat in the legs and buttocks, on the other hand, is healthy. “It seems to be exactly the opposite of visceral fat,” explains Lopez-Jimenez. “There more fat in the legs, the better the profile: better cholesterol, lower glucose, lower triglycerides, and lower insulin.”
Though more research is needed, it seems that it is worth the effort to balance your diet, get a little exercise, and thin that gut.