Genes active in a person's belly fat are different from those in his or her thigh fat, a finding that could shift the way we approach unwanted belly fat - from banishing it to relocating it.
Men tend to store fat in the abdominal area, but don't usually have much in the way of hips or thighs. Women, on the other hand, are more often pear-shaped, storing more fat on their hips and thighs than in the belly.
Why are women and men shaped differently?
The research led by Steven Smith, director of the Florida Hospital - Sanford-Burnham Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes, found that the genes operating in a person's thigh fat are hugely different from those in his or her belly fat.
Smith and colleagues first took fat samples from men and women. Then they compared the genes most active in belly fat to those most active in thigh fat, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports.
For men, 125 genes are expressed differently in the belly than in the thighs. For women, it's 218 genes (most unique to women, but 59 genes are the same as those that varied in male fat).
That's because belly fat is tied to higher risks of heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, hip and thigh fat don't seem to play a special role in these conditions, according to a Florida Hospital statement.
Smith and colleagues help explain this discrepancy by determining how belly and thigh fat differ genetically. This research might shift common thinking about fat - rather than focusing on how to banish belly fat, perhaps we need to tip the balance in favour of heart-friendly fat in the lower body.