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Future together? Not if you’re fat

health-and-fitness Updated: May 15, 2010 21:56 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Gender, it turns out, is the reason why men have big bellies (apple shaped) and women have wide hips and thighs (pear shaped). Scientists have found, surprisingly, that fat tissue in males and females is almost completely different.

Of the about 40,000 genes in the fat tissue of mice, only 138 were common in both male and female fat cells, reported a study in the International Journal of Obesity on Saturday. "We expected the exact opposite," wrote the scientist.

Mice were studied because they distribute their fat in a pattern similar to humans. Men tend to store fat on their stomach while pre-menopausal women store it in their hips and thighs. The fat storage patterns for women, however, become similar to men after menopause.

Irrespective of age or gender, belly fat that adds inches to the waist is bad news. Apart from the added expense of a new wardrobe, it also ups the risk of adding to medical bills.


Truncal obesity — the tendency to store fat around the waist and the abdomen — raises risk of heart attacks and diabetes, with Indians being at high risk because of their genetic predisposition to harbour pot bellies.

One hypothesis is the "thrifty" or the starvation gene theory, first proposed by geneticist James Neel in 1962.

According to Neel, civilisations who relied on farming for food experienced alternating periods of plenty and famine. To adapt to these extreme changes in caloric needs, these people developed a 'thrifty gene' that stored more fat during times of plenty so that they would not starve during times of famine.

Indians are at a higher cardiovascular and diabetes risk because they suffer from Syndrome X, a term used to loosely describe a cluster of metabolic disorders that includes insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), hypertension, high levels of triglycerides (blood fat) and bad cholesterol, and low levels of heart-protecting good cholesterol.

A study of 2050 adults at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences some years ago implied that Indians should have smaller waists than the internationally accepted cut-offs of waist circumference for a healthy life.

As compared to the waist circumference of Caucasians Indians need to shed inches if their waist size crosses 30.4 inches for men and 28.1 inches for women, and 35.1 inches for men and 30.2 inches for women.

The recommended waist-to-hip ratio is 0.95 for men and 0.80 for men, irrespective of action levels.


That irrespective of gender or body-shape, narrower waists are healthier. But this does not mean that wide-hipped women can sit back cocooned in the belief that their wide hips will shield them from heart attacks: the shield crumbles after menopause, so it's best to ensure you have as little fat on you as possible.