Healthy Life, June 2015

What Our Shape Indicates About Our Health

by Stephanie Ryan Malin

When it comes to health, the number you see on the scale does not always have the last word. New research is showing that your body shape may have a bigger impact than your weight on overall health.

Take a moment to assess your body’s natural shape—does your extra weight tend to collect around your hips, thighs and buttocks? If so, you fall into the pear-shaped category. If your extra weight finds a home in your abdomen and around your waist, then you can consider yourself apple-shaped.

In large part, we can thank our parents for the body shape we inherited, since our genes predispose us to store fat in different parts of our bodies.

While health comes in all shapes and sizes, studies have shown that people who carry the majority of their weight around their waist have a much higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. These apple-shaped physiques often have significant amounts of fat surrounding vital organs, which can be dangerous. Fat accumulation in other tissues and organs that are not meant for fat storage—such as the heart, liver or muscle—often results in negative health consequences.

What about pear-shaped people?

“Individuals with more fat below the waist have a much lower risk of developing obesity-related diseases,” explained Dr. Ursula White, a researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Why exactly is the pear-shape healthier?

“When the hip and thigh regions can effectively store fat, this may prevent it from going to the abdomen and other unhealthy places, like the heart and liver,” said Dr. White. “We also know that fat cells from different areas of the body do not behave the same way, and the reasons for these differences require more research.”

Now, White and her colleagues at Pennington Biomedical are in search of answers about why fat cells from various regions of the body are different. In a pioneering research study called “Apple & Pear,” they are exploring differences in the formation of new fat cells between belly fat and thigh fat and how this may influence health.

“Ultimately, we want to use this information to develop new therapies for people who struggle with extra weight around their waists. One day, perhaps, our sons and daughters will have better treatments for excess weight that can be hazardous to health,” White said.

White is looking for women who may be interested in learning more about their health through participation in the Apple & Pear study.

“We are really excited because we have the opportunity to share this world-class research with people in our own backyard,” said White, adding that women who qualify for the study are not only contributing to innovative research, but also have the opportunity to learn more about their fat distribution and health. Additionally, they will receive weight loss and nutritional counseling at no cost to them.

To see if you are eligible to participate in the Apple & Pear study, call Pennington Biomedical at 225-763-2862 or visit