How does the type of fat you have affect your risk of disease?

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Answered by: Emily, An Expert in the Obesity and Your Health Category
When it comes to the health risks of being overweight or obese, fat is not just fat. Scientific research has revealed that the type of fat, indicated by its location on your body, affects the increased negative health you suffer due to the excess weight.

In general, there exists conflicting evidence and some debate in the scientific community regarding the increased health risks associated with being overweight or slightly obese, especially among physically fit individuals. However, data suggest that the greater your BMI, i.e. Body Mass Index - a measure of how appropriate your weight is for your height - the greater your health risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the associated risk of death linked to these conditions. If you want to reduce these risks, you must understand the classification of fat patterns and types.

When you hear “android” type obesity mentioned, it means fat has accumulated mostly in the abdominal area. This may also be called upper body, central, or apple-shaped obesity. The contrasting pattern is “gynoid”, characterized by fat accumulation in the hips, buttocks and thighs, and is often called pear-shaped obesity. The most important thing to learn about the different patterns of carrying extra weight is that "android" type obesity carries higher health risks than obesity itself. The fat cells involved in this pattern are mostly visceral – they are large, deposited deep under the skin and are highly metabolically active. The hormones they secrete have direct access to your liver.

In contrast, those secreted by the other type of fat, called subcutaneous (meaning "under the skin"), is deposited much closer to the surface and has poses less of a threat to vital organs. This type of fat is the predominant one found in the alternate type of obesity, "gynoid" type, and is not nearly as destructive. All fat releases hormones, but subcutaneous fat is able to scatter its effects throughout your entire system, so its impact is diluted.

Research has specifically linked the visceral type of fat to metabolic disorders including insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high triglycerides, increased bad (LDL) cholesterol, decreased good (HDL) cholesterol, and high blood pressure. In essence, every health risk associated with obesity appears to derive from the android-associated fat, while gynoid-type fat cells, although more difficult to shed, are not linked with these negative health effects. Thus android-type obesity remains a strong predictor of risk for cardiovascular disesases, type II diabetes, and organ failure than obesity alone.

Waist circumference has proven to be the most accurate detector of which pattern your excess weight has taken. It is essential for you to determine how much of your excess weight is located in the abdominal region and to be vigilant about shedding this visceral fat to reduce your risk for multiple negative health complications. So ask your physician, spouse, or a friend to measure your waist; you'll gain insight into how detrimental your personal pattern of extra weight is on your quality of life, current and future health risks, and longevity.

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