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Study Suggests That Having Fat Thighs Actually Confers a Health Benefit

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Thigh fat measuring may have clinical significance in the future.

Here’s the latest news about an unexpected finding that suggests carrying extra fat around your thighs just might give you a leg-up in your metabolic health over your skinny friends.

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Recent news stories this week discuss that the number of Americans having hypertension is on the rise and that something needs to be done about it to prevent an escalation in the incidences of heart attacks and strokes.

This rise is attributed to less effective use of blood pressure medication and patient care management, with some experts calling for the use of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring—which takes readings for a 24-hour period and is considered to be more accurate—to help stem the rise.

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In spite of the dire warnings, however, there is some good and rather unexpected news regarding hypertension.

According to a news release from the American Heart Association, new research to be presented Sept. 10-13, 2020, at the virtual American Heart Association's Hypertension 2020 Scientific Sessions includes a study that reveals an unexpected benefit of having fat thighs—a lower blood pressure than those who have less thigh fat.

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The news release reports that, “…Adults with fatter legs—meaning they have a higher percentage of total body fat tissue in their legs—were less likely than those with a lower percentage to have high blood pressure…”

Data from nearly 6,000 adults enrolled in the 2011-2016 National Health & Nutrition Examination Surveys was examined in the study comparing the rate of three types of high blood pressure in relation to the percentage of fat tissue in the legs of adult participants from the surveys.

Special X-ray scans measured fat tissue in the legs, compared that to the overall body fat tissue, and then categorized men and women as having a high thigh fat content if their percentage of leg fat was more than 34% for men and 39% or higher for women.

What the researchers found was that:

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• Adults with a higher percentage of fat tissue in their legs were less likely than those with a lower percentage to have high blood pressure.

• Research findings held true even after adjusting for age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, smoking, alcohol use, cholesterol levels and waist fat, although to a lesser degree.

• Researchers speculate that this protection offered by a higher percentage of leg fat could help identify those at low risk of high blood pressure, or alternatively serve as a target for prevention efforts, although more studies are needed.

"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,'" said principal investigator Aayush Visaria, M.P.H., a fourth-year medical student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey.

"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."

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Despite the fact that the researchers have not determined a cause and effect for the findings as of yet, the researchers believe that their findings may prove to have clinical significance in the future.

"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," Visaria said. "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."

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Photo by Huha Inc. on Unsplash

Reference: “Fatter legs linked to reduced risk of high blood pressure” American Heart Association Hypertension 2020 Scientific Sessions Report – Presentation #MP34, Session MP07. 10 September 2020.