Belly fat is more dangerous than leg fat for older woman, according to a new study.
But the new research, conducted on 2,600 postmenopausal women in a healthy weight range (calculated as a body mass index between 18 and 25), suggests it’s not strictly the amount of weight you store – but also where you store it that matters.
Women who are “apple shaped” are three times more at risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease or stroke compared to women who are ‘pear-shaped’, the findings show.
The major US study was conducted as part of the Women's Health Initiative.
It looked at postmenopausal women between 1993 and 1998 and followed up with them at intervals until early 2017 – an average of 18 years later.
Researchers found women who had the highest percentage of fat around their middle and the lowest percentage of leg fat had a more than threefold increased cardiovascular disease risk compared to women at the opposite extreme, with the least belly fat and the most leg fat.
Meanwhile, women in the top 25% for the greatest proportion of fat stored in their legs had a 40% lower risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Our study participants were all women with normal weight. So this message is very important: even for women with a healthy body weight, 'apple shape' or 'pear shape' still matters,” said study author Professor Qibin Qi, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
What can women do to reduce their belly fat?
Our body shapes tend to be determined by our genes – with some storing a “space tyre” around the middle, and others complaining of being bottom-heavy.
How to lose belly fat is one of the most commonly searched for weight loss terms on the internet – yet scientists remain stumped over how to achieve targeted slimming from this area.
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“It is unknown whether there might be some particular diet or exercise which can help relocate fat. Our group is working on this question and hopefully we can have an answer soon,” he added.
In the mean time, those concerned about the health risks of their belly fat, Professor Qi suggested an overall weight loss might be the best approach – to reduce the ratio of belly to leg fat.