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October 4th, 2010
04:35 PM ET

Fat grows differently in different body areas

Researchers have found that fat in different parts of the body grows differently, and despite the prevailing belief that the number of fat cells in the body remains constant in adults, the study finds that the number of fat cells in the lower body actually increases in number with weight gain, while weight gain in the abdomen causes fat cells to grow in size.

The findings represent "a breakthrough" in understanding how our bodies produce fat, according to lead study author Dr. Michael D. Jensen of the Mayo Clinic Endocrine Research Unit.

Researchers recruited 28 adults for the study -  15 men and 13 women, all without any health problems and of normal weight. The subjects' body fat and fat cell size was measured before the study and again after eight weeks of overeating, using fat biopsies, according to Jensen.

Eating a diet that included giant candy bars, ice cream shakes, and high calorie nutritional drinks, the participants gained an average of about 5.5 pounds of upper body fat and 3.3 pounds of lower body fat.

"The dogma had been that the number of fat cells in the body remained constant, although some of my colleagues believed that wasn't true, " said Jensen.  "The accumulation of abdominal fat happens largely by individual cells expanding in size, while with fat gain in the femoral or lower body, it's the number of fat cells that increases. So, different mechanism, different impact."

Different factors influence how our bodies gain fat, according to Jensen.  "A large part of fat gain is genetic and hormonal but environmental factors such as alcohol intake, smoking, and being inactive," can increase the amount of belly fat that accumulates on our bodies.

Increased abdominal fat is one of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, according to the American Heart Association. The dangers of metabolic syndrome include increased heart disease risk, stroke, and type two diabetes. The AHA estimates that over 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Jensen says the next step is conduct further studies to better understand the genetics of how fat cells in two different areas behave so differently. He stressed "people need to understand that it's not bad news if they gain more lower body fat and the number of fat cells grow" because the lower body fat is not as unhealthy as abdominal fat.


soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Mike

    Come on, where are all the know-it-alls who say these findings are obvious and a waste of tax money? I know you goons are out there.

    October 4, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lauren

      We're hiding.

      October 4, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse |
    • Terrey

      Yeah, I'm one of them. This study actually violates the long-held common knowledge that fat cells grow, not multiply... So... Herp a derp.

      October 5, 2010 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
  2. Foxie

    So... what foods do I need to eat to just accumulate fat in the chest area? Now THAT would be a breakthrough study! 😀

    October 4, 2010 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. jj

    why are you doing fat studies??? We all know what causes you to be fat. If that is how you want to look and live your life then fine, why is this a study???

    October 4, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • youareanimbecile

      Are you a biologist or a health research scientist? Obviously not. They most likely did this study because the more knowledge we have of a certain topic, the easier it is to fully understand and find a solution. The article wasn't about what makes you fat necessarily. I found that it was more about the development of fat cells in different parts of the human body.. hence the title of the article, "Fat grows differently in different body areas".

      October 4, 2010 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      JJ, there you are! I knew it wouldn't take long for your kind to show up. Now repeat it with me... "Knowledge is power!" Now go read a book. It's clear you couldn't take the time to read the whole article.

      October 4, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
  4. Srinivasan R (John)

    Body's Upper or lower portion, fat is dangerous if one has to encounter shocks of any kind. Excess fat causes heart enlargement,kidney related ailments. slim is always trim and safe

    October 4, 2010 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. SS

    So I'm guessing that it might be harder to reduce lower body fat than upper body fat?? As in, you are simply reducing the size of fat cells... But is it even possible to reduce the ACTUAL number of fat cells in your body. Sounds like it could be a more difficult process to me! Has to be possible, I guess, as people have lost weight significantly in those areas before! So it might not be as simple as all that! Interesting stuff!

    October 5, 2010 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. NyteShayde

    This question is a big bucket of fail. The answer is NOBODY LOOKS GOOD IN SPEEDO! You f'n troll

    October 5, 2010 at 02:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Karen

    Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) is an enzyme that breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol. LPL can, among others, be found in the epithelium of the adipose tissue, liver and muscles. It can bind to passing fat containing lipoproteins like VLDL’s and Chylomicrons. Hydrolysed fatty acids can be absorbed by the cells. Inside fat cells, the fatty acids will be esterified into triglycerides (fat). In other cells, e.g. muscles, the fatty acids are mostly used for fuel. Each cell type can have different LPL-activity. The more active the LPL, the more fat the cell will absorb. So fat cells are different. If you want to know more about why fat here and not there, read this post http://bit.ly/dlfxqj

    October 5, 2010 at 04:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jimmy James

      Unless you can say it in plain English, you say nothing. If you cannot understand that this is plain English, then you are part of the problem and not the solution.

      October 5, 2010 at 06:31 | Report abuse |
    • Buy a Dictionary

      @ Jimmy James – you are part of the problem. Why should we dumb our communication down to the lowest common denominator. If you can't keep up with the rest of the class, that's your problem.

      October 5, 2010 at 06:46 | Report abuse |
  8. Street Wise

    The tree huggers demand a carbon tax to reduce the appetite for hydro-carbons. I say fine, let's start imposing a KCal tax on the undisciplined wimps among us who can't control their visceral impulse to stuff their faces. Anyone with a BMI and LBM to Fat body composition of greater than 20% body fat needs to be checked into a maximum security health workshop and made to do hard labor (picking up white trash, beer cans, cigarettes butts etc. on the public right of way) until they shed the excess lbs AND pay a fine for the impact to the nation's economy and health care programs. There also needs to be a push the other way to TAX and FINE food manufactures who are spiking our packaged foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup, Fat and Salt. A skull and crossbones with the caption "Eat Shyt and Die" should be the required hazardous warning label on all manufactured foods that add Sugar, Fat and Salt to their products. This study is only relevant to those who are OBESE and then its only good as a fear mechanism to try to scare them into eating properly. It will of course fail since these kind of people hate themselves anyway and are eating themselves to death.The bottom line is very simple – "if calories in exceed calories spent YOU GET FAT!". Solution – Stop STUFFING YOUR FAT FACES and EXERCISE! Duh! Now give me $10million for that study lesson....

    October 5, 2010 at 07:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • P-lyte

      @Street Wise – Why stop at an obese tax? Why not a tax for being an idiot, or an a-hole tax? We could then tax you for being both.

      Why is it that everyone wants the government to tax us and solve our problems for us? why don't we not tax people for being fat but if they get health complications from being obese they have to fix it on their own dime? I believe in freedom, and if someone wants to be fat that is their perogative but at the same time they should be paying their own medical bills. The sooner the avg american gets over the idea that the govt should solve all of our problems the better off we will be.

      October 5, 2010 at 08:02 | Report abuse |
    • Bleh

      @P-lyte And who is going to make sure that they pay their medical bills? Will they do it on their own? I think the government would have to step in and make sure that they do that.... Or maybe if they don't pay then the health care systems can unleash their merciless collection units to take the money by force.

      October 5, 2010 at 08:45 | Report abuse |
    • Street Wise

      @ p-lyte, you ask (rhetorically): "Why stop at an obese tax? Why not a tax for being an idiot, or an a-hole tax? "

      You tax yourself with stupid statements like that. You're attempt at an ad hominum is more than incompetent. You sound just like the shrill cacophony of babble most often heard after a mind has been turned to goo by liberalism and idealism. Your problem is your are a slave to idealism and think you are free just because you have an opinion? LOL – let me guess 17 years old?

      My advice – know your target and recognize lampooning before you go shooting off your mouth my friend. I am not in support of any big government solutions. This federalized government is in its death throws already. I am merely waiting for it all to collapse under its own ever increasing weight and hang itself. Then we can bury this bloated government, cull the herds, let the fat idiots and undisciplined eat themselves into the grave start over again.

      BTW – your idealism is childish. You are ALREADY paying for FAT people but you are too stupid to realize it. Very very few fit and healthy individuals need to even seek medical assistance except for accidents. WE are underwriting all the people who are FAT by their own "prerogative". Freedom is not license to be FAT or to do anything one wants to. SELF RESPONSIBILITY goes hand in hand with freedom.

      October 5, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse |
    • KC

      I was always 20 pounds underweight until doctors prescribed medication that has weight gain as a side effect. The prescription didn't do what it was supposed to, so I stopped taking it, but my metabolism is permanently altered and I cannot lose the extra 70 pounds that piled on in the few months I was taking it. Trying to lose the weight, I was eating under 800 calories a day until my doctor lectured me that was unhealthy and made me increase it to 1200 for proper nutrition so I didn't make myself sick, so don't assume that every fat person has no willpower or stuffs their face.

      December 24, 2010 at 10:11 | Report abuse |
  9. Billshut

    Cool.....now heavy people can say, "I don't have a fat belly because I'm fat. I have a fat belly because my fat cells are fat!!" 😉

    October 5, 2010 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Neerav

    The only lesson I have learned from this article is that one should make sure that they eat healthy and excersise (and get a good night's sleep) and burn off those fat cells, which makes you gain weight. Then you don't have to worry about getting diabetes and/or heart disease, and any complications associated with those two problems. I am 29 years old and I am already taking steps to keep myself from getting in trouble later on in life. You should do the same also.

    October 5, 2010 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. iceaxedave

    Fat is as much a psycho-physiological problem as it is a diet-and-exercise issue. 87% of all deaths are attributed to life-style decisions....smoking, drinking, sedentary activity, stress, poor dietary choices, etc....in other words, will-power and life-style decisions made by individuals themselves....therefore (and this will rub people the wrong way I'm sure) ill health is due just as much to psycho-emotional character flaws as it is to disease processes.

    October 5, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. cikadi

    I have really really "fat" genes and gained weight after finally quitting smoking, but lost it and I have been the same healthy weight for almost 20 years now. It really isn't so hard. I am trying to figure out how to teach others to do it. Have written it down, but don't know the best way to help others.

    October 5, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Eric T

    Was there a control group? "The participants gained an average of about 5.5 pounds of upper body fat and 3.3 pounds of lower body fat." This statement is meaningless without a control group to compare it to. What am I supposed to take away from this article?

    October 5, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. J C

    ["The dogma had been that the number of fat cells in the body remained constant, although some of my colleagues believed that wasn't true, " said Jensen. ]

    The problem with the notion that the number of cells remains constant is that it's absolutely false. Estrogen attaches to receptors on fat cells, which causes fat cell division. Pump a body full of estrogens or phytoestrogens and the body will get fat.

    There are phytoestrogenic compounds in flax seed, soy (and tofu), wheat, barley, cucumber (and pickles), and hops. Baby formula, soy milk, mung beans, bread and even beer have estrogenic compounds.

    Our environment is so overloaded with estrogenic compounds that even the tap water we drink has estrogenic compounds.

    Combine that with high levels of fructose consumption, and it's no wonder that 'man b**bs' are becoming commonplace.

    October 5, 2010 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Street Wise

      You are dead on correct JC! Ever since the birth control pill and plastics (and fluoride) and big brother we have pumped tons of synthetic contaminants into our water and eating utensils that are all pre-cursors to ESTROGEN. Ever wonder why US males are turning into such effeminate and passive wimps and growing a new estrogen organ at the belt line (BELLY FAT)? It's because they are all becoming FEMINIZED. Once a society has lost its ability to protect and defend its social mores (traditionally the male role) that society fails. The US is being wussified and its now in the genetic pool – look at the FAT chubby boys coming up from the grade schools! What a DISGRACE.

      October 5, 2010 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
  15. nB

    It must be nice to be skinny, unless we were going though a famine.The study is needed so that further research can be done.If fat cells grow in one area and multiple in another it can help people who gaine weight in specific areas.

    October 5, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Street Wise

    The FUNDAMENTAL problem is that after age 30 people lose lean body mass (i.e. muscle). Only active muscle burns fat. The ONLY way to lose fat is to eat nutritionally (no junk food) at or up to 500 cals below a sustaining level of Basic Metabolic needs. THEN one must do weight lifting to build muscle mass to increase LBM to burn fat (30-50 cals per pound of LBM). ALSO one must do cardio or walking exercises (large muscle groups) to create a caloric deficit since HUMANS WERE NOT DESIGNED TO BE SITTING IN DESKS IN OFFICES in a sedentary lifestyle. We are made to do physical work and to MOVE and NOT to sit around watching TV or drinking beer and smoking and eating packaged and processed foods and colas and high fructose corn syrup. We need to create a new social culture where people WALK daily 2-3 miles to meet each other and be social. The cyber world of the internet and the cell phones and the TV drones are all feeding the culture of death that has a strangle hold on the western society. The best thing that could happen right now for humanity is a massive world wide famine or natural disaster to cull the herd – and get people back to hard labor. Hate to say that but we are too far gone as a "culture" to salvage the wuss factor that is deeply entrenched in our society.

    October 5, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. el polacko

    smoking DECREASES weight, it doesn't add fat. why is it that, no matter what the issue, everybody wants to blame tobacco for everything negative ? it's a bunch of p.c. bull.

    October 6, 2010 at 04:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. hiya

    The one thing I don't get is that I have the average sized stomach, aka a normal stomach but my thighs are a bit bigger than most peoples? does different food make u get fatter in diff places?

    September 20, 2015 at 01:02 | Report abuse | Reply

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