FRIDAY, Oct. 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The location of fat in the body is more important than the level of obesity in determining the risk of heart disease in older women, according to a new study.
The research focused on 58 obese, postmenopausal women. Half of them suffered from metabolic syndrome, a group of factors that combine to increase a person's risk of heart disease.
"We found that where the body fat is stored was the main determinant of who had metabolic syndrome," lead researcher Barbara Nicklas, an associate professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., said in a statement.
The investigators studied the health effects of subcutaneous fat, which is stored between the skin and the abdominal muscle wall, and visceral fat, which is beneath the muscles and wrapped around the internal organs.
"Women with metabolic syndrome had 33 percent more visceral fat, but were similar in all other respects, including the waist circumference, with almost exactly the same amount of subcutaneous fat and identical fat cell size," Nicklas said.
Nicklas said her study makes it clear that not all fat is alike, and she urged further research on visceral fat.
"We need to learn what causes the fat to be stored beneath the muscles or around the internal organs and determine treatment options to reduce this visceral fat," she said. "More studies are also needed to determine whether measurement of visceral fat could be used by doctors for more accurate prediction of cardiovascular disease risk in obese individuals."
The research appears in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The American Heart Association has more about metabolic syndrome.