Body fat distribution may indicate heart disease risk

An older woman’s body shape—that resembles an apple rather than a pear—may point to an increased risk in heart disease, despite having normal weight, a study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data on nearly 162,000 postmenopausal women who took part in the NHLBI-supported Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study between 1993 and 1998. WHI extension studies continued follow-up of consenting patients through 2017. They found that the greatest risk of heart disease was among women whose highest percentage of fat was around their middle (apple-shaped) and the lowest in their legs. More so, the risk tripled compared to women with the least body fat and the most leg fat.

Although the study was done among postmenopausal women—not other segments of the population like men or younger women—the study suggests that people should pay attention not only to how much weight they have gained, but where the weight is. The study appeared in the European Heart Journal. It was supported by NHLBI and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.