ORLANDO, Fla., January 11, 2013 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-shapedstoring more fat on their hips and thighs than in the belly. Why are women and men shaped differently? The answer still isn't clear, but it's an issue worth investigating, says Steven R. Smith, M.D., director of the Florida Hospital Sanford-Burnham Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes. That's because belly fat is associated with 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.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Smith and colleagues help explain this discrepancy by determining how belly and thigh fat differ genetically. This research might shift common thinking about fatrather than focusing on how to banish belly fat, perhaps we need tip the balance in favor of heart-friendly fat in the lower body. In that case, the study also provides a first step toward aiming treatments at specific regions of the body, especially those that contribute most to the complications of obesity.
Belly fat genes vs. thigh fat genes
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.
Here's what they found: The genes operating in a person's thigh fat are hugely different from those in his or her belly fat. For men, 125 genes are expressed differently in the belly than in the thighs. For women, it's 218 genes (most are unique to women, but 59 genes are the same as those that varied in male fat).
The most notable genes that differed are known as homeobox genes. These genes are known for their role in helping shape a developing embryodetermining which cells and organs go where. Many homeobox
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Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute