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Study finds some benefits to lower-body fat

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Sick of your saddlebags? Peeved about your protruding posterior? Thankful -- not! -- for your thunder thighs?

Then scientists might have some good news for you: A growing body of research suggests that fat in the hips, thighs and buttocks might be good for your heart.

These studies expand on what's known about the dangers of fat deep in the abdomen, which is found in "apple"-shaped people, vs. the lower-body fat predominant in "pear"-shaped people. Lower-body fat might not just sit there but actually might protect against cardiovascular disease.

The latest research, in the August issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, involved 95 postmenopausal women. Researchers used X-rays to measure fat distribution in the women's bodies. They then measured their levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides, or blood fat.

Lower-body fat appeared to have a favorable effect on all of those cardiovascular risk factors in women who were not also thick around the middle, the researchers found.

"What that sort of confirms is that abdominal fat is really bad and is probably going to outweigh many of the benefits of leg fat," says lead author Rachael Van Pelt, an assistant geriatrics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Lower-body fat appeared to have a favorable effect on only triglycerides in women with wider waistlines, Van Pelt and her co-authors found. They called for more research to explain the apparent beneficial effects of lower-body fat.

"It seems to me there are good places to store fat and bad places to store fat," Van Pelt says, adding that she suspects that's the case in men and younger women as well as postmenopausal women. And perhaps, Van Pelt says, lower-body liposuction might increase the risk of heart disease.

Anne Newman, a professor of epidemiology and geriatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, suspects that the differences between abdominal fat and lower-body fat might grow more pronounced with age.

In April, she co-wrote a study of 3,035 men and women in their 70s in the Archives of Internal Medicine that found that fatter thighs were linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome -- a group of risk factors that includes high triglycerides and raised blood pressure.

Not that pears should regard these findings as a license to live large, Newman says. Whether pear or apple, she says, "when people gain weight, they'll gain weight everywhere."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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