Apples, Pears, and You: The Skinny on Fat Location
Understanding your fat mass is an important first step to understanding your body composition. Your body fat percentage can be a driving factor in athletic performance, and even a slight increase of one or two percent body fat can be the difference between hitting that personal best and going home empty-handed. But does fat location matter? Is belly fat the same thing as fat in the thighs and hips?
It actually makes a tremendous difference.
Studies suggest that fat distribution is an independent indicator of cardiovascular disease. BodySpec specifically measures the fat composition of the android and gynoid regions of the body. The android region is described as the distribution of adipose tissues around the trunk and upper body, leading to an "apple shape" or central obesity. The gynoid region is described as fat around the hips and gluteal muscles causing a "pear shape." An android fat pattern with excess fat in the upper (central) body region, particularly the abdomen, has been associated with deleterious health outcomes whereas the gynoid "pear" pattern has not.
For those with an "apple" shape, this type of fat distribution is associated with visceral fat deposits in the abdominal region and metabolically active fat sources. Visceral fat surrounding vital organs in the abdominal region can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. For those with a "pear" shape, they carry the majority of fat below the waistline, attributed to subcutaneous adipose fat depots. Fat in this region does not put an individual in the same risk category as individuals with excessive VAT.
But I don't look like I have an apple shape. Does that mean I'm not at risk?
No, not completely. Even individuals who appear thinner and void of an apple shape can still have unhealthy "hidden" belly fat. Research shows that fat may be folded deep inside the android region around the stomach organs, visible only with advanced imaging techniques – like BodySpec's DEXA scanner. According to Robert Eckel, President of the American Heart Association, this "hidden" belly fat puts people at the same health risks as someone with more obvious belly girth.
In 1947, a French physician named Jean Vague reported in a medical journal that his obese patients with diabetes or clinical signs of cardiovascular disease had a central distribution of fat, whereas he suggested that the typical female body pattern of lower gynoid fat accumulation was rarely associated with complications. He was met with heavy resistance in the medical community. Not until epidemiological and clinical studies were performed some 40 years later were Vague's theories validated. With modern day imaging techniques, the medical and scientific communities were able to confirm the relationships between fat location and health risks described above.
Simply put, there is no way to know your body composition except by testing for it. Scales and tape measures tell you nothing about your body fat percentage or location. BMI often incorrectly categorizes individuals based on linear calculations of height and weight that do not take their actual body composition into consideration. And an overall body fat percentage measurement tells you nothing about your fat distribution. You have to look "under the hood" to gain an actual understanding of the metrics that matter most – including your fat location.
BodySpec uses a DEXA scanner, providing the most accurate technology on the market to identify body fat distribution. Our technology is the only kind that directly measures and detects the composition of every square inch of your body. Our scans give you the most thorough and accurate information about your body composition – because we measure what matters most.
(1) Donahue RP, Abbott RD, Bloom E, Reed DM, Yano K. Central obesity and coronary heart disease in men. Lancet. 1987;332;1:821–824.