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Location of body fat important in predicting heart attack risk

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. For elderly women, the location of body fat is more important than total fat amount in predicting future heart attacks, according to researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues.

"In the over-70 age group, overall obesity did not predict heart attack risk," said Barbara J. Nicklas, Ph.D., lead researcher. "It didn't matter how much fat the older woman had what mattered was where that fat was stored."

The researchers found that intra-abdominal fat, or fat stored in and around the internal organs, is most predictive of heart attack risk. The results are reported in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"People with higher levels of intra-abdominal fat tend to be apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped" Nicklas said. "As we age, fat gets stored in the abdomen more than anywhere else, which isn't good because it's now associated with heart attacks. The best way to lose that fat is to lose overall body fat through exercise and diet."

The study was conducted in initially healthy 70- to 79-year-old men and women from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn., who were enrolled in the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study. Individuals were eligible for the study if they reported no life-threatening illness such as heart disease, as well as no difficulty walking a quarter of a mile, climbing 10 steps or performing basic activities of daily living.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers measured total body fat as well as fat distribution (waist-to-thigh ratio, waist circumference, and intra-abdominal or visceral fat). Participants were contacted every six months for the next 4 years to collect data about hospitalizations or major outpatient procedures for heart attack.

The research revealed that intra-abdominal fat was a risk factor even if women did not have any other risk factors for heart disease. "Women who had a heart attack during
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Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
27-Oct-2004


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