Home The "Study" Guide Can Having a Little Extra Booty and Thigh Fat Make You Healthier?

Can Having a Little Extra Booty and Thigh Fat Make You Healthier?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From ABC News, important parts bolded:

Public health officials have harped on actively taking steps to reduce obesity, but it seems for some genetically lucky individuals, reducing their body fat isn’t as important.


A new review published by researchers at the University of Oxford and Churchill Hospital in the United Kingdom suggests that people who carry their body fat in their thighs and backside aren’t just carrying extra weight, but also some extra protection against diabetes, heart disease and other conditions associated with obesity.

“It is the protective role of lower body, that is [thigh and backside] fat, that is striking. The protective properties of the lower body fat depot have been confirmed in many studies conducted in subjects with a wide range of age, BMI and co-morbidities,” the researchers write in the most recent issue of the Journal of Obesity.

“If you’re going to have fat, you’re definitely better off if you’ve got some fat in the lower body,” said Dr. Michael Jensen, director of endocrine research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “If you look at people who have primarily the pear shape, they’re healthy in all the ways that this fat behaves. It’s not just less heart attacks or less diabetes, it’s all these ways we think about fat as an important organ for our health.”

For years, researchers have looked into the idea that not all fat is created equal. People who carry their fat in their stomachs, also known as “apple-shaped” people, are said to have more problems from obesity than those who carry their fat in their hips.

People who carry their fat in their thighs and backsides — otherwise known as their gluteofemoral region — appear to be in a similar class to those with fat in their hips.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows that the fat depots are not the same in the body,” said Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor medicine specializing in obesity at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

He explained that the fat stored in the stomach is harmful because “it is more metabolically active,” sending fatty contents and messages throughout the body, whereas fat in the lower regions of the body tends to be more stable and release fewer cytokines, which have been implicated in the insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.

“There’s a whole range of these hormonal markers that seem to be more preferentially released from the belly,” said Kushner.

Getting More Back

But it is unclear if the fat in the thighs and backside are better for you than simply being thin, experts say.

“If you’re a healthy thin weight, you’re going to be every bit as healthy as someone who has weight, but has all the weight in the lower body,” said Jensen.

But while lower body fat may be healthier than upper body fat, at this point people have little control over where their body chooses to store its fat, with spot-toning a myth and the only options coming from pharmaceutical side effects.

“You can’t direct or drive the fat in one part of your body versus another,” said Kushner. “For the average person on the street, it’s determined by genetics.”

He noted, however, that “One can develop, perhaps, medication to deposit in one area,” a possibility noted by the authors of the review who point out that it is one effect of some existing diabetes drugs.

Different Fat, But Better Fat?

While the review seems to indicate that having fat lower down can be a good thing, not all experts are convinced.

“I think that the article makes a fairly compelling point that there are likely differences between these two fat stores,” said Floyd Chilton, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “But I think it certainly falls short in making a convincing argument that one is protective and the other is the major source of the problem.”

Some of the measurements, he explained, were not performed in a way that would allow for a conclusive judgment. For example, he said a number of studies cited by the researchers used hip circumference to determine where fat was being stored.

Chilton noted that many of the diseases discussed by researchers of the study — including heart disease and diabetes — have been connected to inflammation in the body.

“Many of them are increasing in incidence at a very similar rate to the dramatic increase in obesity,” he said.

As always, you’ll have to visit ABC News to read the full article.

This sounds like a few things to me:

1) This further invalidates the body mass index (BMI) to me. If the location of body fat affects the healthfulness of it, then that further complicates the index: it’s not enough to simply say “Hey, your weight is over X amount, you’re at a greater risk for [insert host of ailments].” Now, we need to quantify the weight by the location of the bulk of it, something the body mass index cannot do.

2) This further invalidates the need to cling to the scale as a marker of health in any way. There are a thousand other metrics that a person can use to understand their fitness and progress, and a scale oversimplifies a very complicated thing. Hence, the Scale Free Squad. But y’all don’t hear me, though.

3)I have a theory about being “apple-shaped” as opposed to, say, “hourglass” or “pear” shaped. I shared, years ago, that I lost my belly fat by cutting the sugar… sugar that, well, can cause everything from high blood pressure to type 2 diabetes to liver disease. I’ve read enough about sugar over the years to make the following statement fairly comfortably:
The same foods that stick to the belly region – the sugar-laden ones – are the same foods that cause these illnesses. There are several scientists and grad students who follow this blog and share information with me, so I’m gonna ask y’all to help me out a bit, here – haven’t we seen studies that talked about how the consumption of high fructose corn syrup actually contributed to belly fat? Was that contribution happening in ways that were larger than they otherwise would be with regular sugar? Or was that in comparison to non-sugary foods?Short of a few endocrinological issues, I’ve always presumed that excess belly fat came from an overwhelming amount of sugar in the diet, be it from HFCS or not. If you’re eating a lot of processed foods, you’re probably getting a lot of either… or both… and it’s likely contributing to whatever you’ve got going on. Going off that theory, it’d then make sense to me that you’d find a prevalence of these issues among the apple-shaped population as opposed to the “pear-shaped” population.4) Doctors are still using language of size, as opposed to language of, say, body fat percentage. It’s not enough, IMO, to refer to “thin” people being healthier – you can be thin and have a disproportionate amount of belly fat that’d still leave you among the “unhealthy” crowd. I just really wish these doctors would stop giving off the impression that “thinness” is what the goal should be – if you want to talk about minimal body fat, then you’re talking about leanness, something measured with body fat percentage, not size. 5) In the original article, it reads, “You can’t direct or drive the fat in one part of your body versus another,” said Kushner. “For the average person on the street, it’s determined by genetics.”Looking at my theory in point 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also determined by the kinds of foods you’re eating, as well. I’ve been able to keep my belly fat shrinking throughout the years – even without training for fat loss – simply because my diet is low in sugar.6) …which complicates this:He noted, however, that “One can develop, perhaps, medication to deposit in one area,” a possibility noted by the authors of the review who point out that it is one effect of some existing diabetes drugs.I can’t help but wonder – if the food is [for some] contributing to the location of the deposit, and if your concern is that the belly fat is more metabolically active and, therefore, more of a problem… has nutrition therapy – like, with an actual registered dietician – been considered as an option before ‘medication?’ Not that medication is inherently bad, but medication that affects the hormones can often come combined with side effects that also affect the hormones in other unintended ways. I can’t help but imagine how it’d affect the efficacy of other medications a person might be taking.In my mind, this research gets us closer to the mark, but still misses it – it’s important to quantify the location of fat, sure, but if you’re still observing the results under the eye of “size” and making that the standard that must be met, then it feels like we’re still falling short…especially since we’re still not quantifying thinness the way we quantify fat.I have to admit, I personally giggled when I read Elite Daily’s addendum:

*This study did not include fake butts.

What do you think? How does this affect you?

You may also like


Beeoi October 31, 2013 - 7:54 PM

I remember watching Oprah a few years ago,when Dr.OZ was on ,and he was speaking about the dangers of abdominal fat versus lower body fat,I remember Oprah being all “well I got that covered”,and me thinking YAY!! I might not be able to find jeans that fit properly, but at least my risk for hear disease is less !
I also remember a waist measurement being given ,and being told that that’s what should be watched,and that is what I have been trying to work towards in my journey.Cutting the belly fat, and not for the vanity reasons, but because of what I had seen on that show.
Glad that there is now more evidence supporting this.

Kami November 1, 2013 - 10:46 AM

Hey Erika,
Do you think in the future they will get rid of the bmi. And instead focus on measurements and body fat percentage. Mostly focusing on clean eating, the sugar has been leaving my diet. My belly has been shrinking.

Jessica November 2, 2013 - 1:53 AM

Whats funny is that my BMI is 28 and body fat is 31% but if you look at me I am toned and slim. I am overweight in medical terms but society will label me fit and slim. Do numbers matter anymore? I believe only measurements should be taken into account not bmi

Comments are closed.