New study reveals surprising benefit of having more leg fat

Fat shaming is almost always restricted to psychological contexts.

It’s true that social pressure has been proven to discourage overweight populations against adopting healthy lifestyle choices more often than not, but research has much more to say about a pinch appreciation of diet norms.

New findings, recently presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension 2020 Scientific Session posits that body fat can actually yield positive health associations depending on where it is stored.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis on the 6,000 adults previously enrolled in the 2011-2016 National Health & Nutrition Examination Surveys. The pool expressed a median age of 37and 24% had high blood pressure, (defined as blood pressure greater than 130 0ver 80.

In order to concurrently measure the fat tissue in each participant’s legs and overall body fat, the authors employed x-ray scans before final analysis.

In the context of the new study, high leg fat denoted anything more than 34% for men and over 39% for women.

Participants with more fat tissue in their legs were significantly less likely to develop all three forms of hypertension: Isolated systolic hypertension, malignant hypertension, and resistant hypertension.

Moreover, these subjects were 53% less likely to develop diastolic high blood pressure and 39% less likely to develop systolic high blood pressure.

This outcome remained consistent even with the authors controlled for age, sex, race, smoking and alcohol consumption, and waist fat.

The authors did highlight several important limitations. Some of which are to be expected of preliminary analysis.

“Cause and effect could not be determined since information on blood pressure and percentage of fat tissue in the legs were measured at the same time,” The American Heart Association reports. “Second, a larger group of participants is needed to yield more information about the effects on high blood pressure of varying degrees of fat tissue in the legs. Finally, all study participants were under the age of 60, so the results may not apply to older adults, who are generally at greater risk for high blood pressure.”

Even sill, independent studies have arrived at similar conclusions in the past–more squarely in relation to thigh fat and blood pressure.

“Ultimately, what we noted in this study is a continued discussion of ‘it’s not just how much fat you have, but where the fat is located,’” principal investigator Aayush Visaria, M.P.H., a fourth-year medical student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey explained in a University release. “Although we know confidently that fat around your waist is detrimental to health, the same cannot be said for leg fat. If you have fat around your legs, it is more than likely not a bad thing and may even be protecting you from hypertension, according to our findings.

If these results are confirmed by larger, more robust studies, and in studies using easily accessible measurement methods like thigh circumference, there is the potential to affect patient care. Just as waist circumference is used to estimate abdominal fat, thigh circumference may be a useful tool, although it’s a bit cumbersome and not as widely studied in the U.S. population.”

The new study was co-authored by David Lo, M.B.S.; and Pranay Maniar, B.A.