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Women with slim hips are more at risk of diabetes and heart attacks

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Women with slim hips could be at risk of diabetes and heart attacks, researchers have shown.

Experts have long warned that putting on weight is dangerous for health but the new research reinforces the theory that the part of the body where fat accumulates has a major impact.

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Putting on weight around the hips is actually safer than if it accumulates around the belly or is stored around major organs such as the liver or pancreas, the scientists found.

The research team, from the University of Cambridge, found some women are genetically less able to store fat at the hips.

This puts them at risk of type two diabetes and heart disease because when they do put on fat it is more likely to circulate in the blood, gather around the belly or become wrapped around organs.

Lead author Dr Luca Lotta, of the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge said: ‘It may seem counter-intuitive to think that some people with less fat around their hips are at higher risk of diabetes or heart disease.

‘We believe that this is due to a genetically-determined inability to store excess calories safely in the hip region as opposed to elsewhere.

‘This means that individuals with this genetic make-up preferentially store their excess fat in the liver, muscles or pancreas, or in their blood in the form of circulating fats and sugar, any of which can lead to a higher disease risk.

‘We are trying to understand whether some of the genes identified by our study may be suitable targets for future drug development but this process may take several years.’

The research team, whose findings are published in the JAMA medical journal, studied the genetic profiles of more than 600,000 women.

They identified more than 200 genetic variants that predispose people to a higher waist-to-hip ratio – a measure of the “appleshaped” body of slim hips and wide belly.

They identified two specific groups of genetic variants – one that lowers fat around the hips, and another increasing fat around the waist and belly.

Senior author Dr Claudia Langenberg said: ‘We found that both of the genetic variants we identified were associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.

‘The concept of an “appleshaped” figure has been understood for some time but our research considers how this body shape alters fat distribution in the body.

‘Genetics which specifically change fat distribution by lowering fat storage around the hips increase risk of disease independent of, and in addition to, mechanisms that affect abdominal fat storage.’

The team also conducted detailed assessments of fat distribution among 18,000 people using X-ray scans that can distinguish body fat from muscle and bones.

Dr Langenberg added: ‘Not all apple shapes are the same.

‘Guidelines that focus solely on measuring waist circumference to assess risk overlook people whose body shape is not adequately captured by this metric but who are still likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

‘Carrying excess weight around the hips is a metabolically safer way of storing fat but those who aren’t genetically predisposed to doing so would benefit greatly from lifestyle interventions, such as restricting their calorie intake or increasing their physical activity.’

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