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Fat Distribution Predicts a Person’s Risk for Heart Attack

Obesity and overweight can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. Yet, there are other ways to determine someone’s chances of developing a cardiometabolic health condition. According to a recent study presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, the way fat is distributed throughout the body can indicate someone’s cardiometabolic risk.

Study lead Miriam A. Bredella, MD, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and her colleagues evaluated 200 overweight and obese people who were the mean age of 37 and had similar BMI.

The group of 109 women and 91 men were instructed to fast the night before they underwent dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), CT scans, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to assess and quantify fat. The imaging tests showed that women and men had very different fat distribution. Women had more fat, subcutaneous fat, and superficial thigh fat but less lean mass in comparison to men. Men had more visceral adipose tissue, “or ectopic fat depots located in the abdomen around the internal organs (commonly known as a "beer belly"), and more ectopic fat in the muscles and liver.” For men, ectopic fat doesn’t usually contribute to cardiometabolic risk, however it does for women.

There are a lot of reasons associated with fat distribution, including genetic predisposition, growth hormones, and diet. However, the connection between fat distribution and longevity is tied greatly to gender. “The detrimental fat depots deep in the belly, muscles and liver are more damaging for cardiometabolic health in women compared to men,” Bredella said.

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