Women come in all shapes and sizes. Short and round or tall and reed-thin; we are as diverse as fingerprints. One size does not fit all. Big can be beautiful, and tiny can be tough. But when it comes to health, shape matters. And knowing whether you’re shaped like an apple or a pear might help you lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Apples versus pears
Whether you’re an apple or pear depends on where your body stores its excess fat. If fat tends to gather high around your abdomen, you’re an apple. If it collects more around your hips and thighs, you’re a pear.
And being pear-shaped is healthier than being apple-shaped, says Lynda H. Powell, PhD, co-principal investigator of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) at Rush. Rush is the only medical center in Chicago participating in the WHI, a nationwide study addressing the most common causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women.
“Research shows that women who have more fat concentrated around the waist, as opposed to their hips, have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” Powell says.
Not a pear? Don’t despair
There may be some good news for apple-shaped women, however. Some research indicates that the health risks linked to upper body fat might be limited to a specific kind of fat, says Powell. And having an apple shape doesn’t necessarily mean you have that type of fat.
“The fat around your waist that you can see and pull up with your hand is subcutaneous fat,” Powell says. “Subcutaneous fat appears to be unrelated to heart disease and diabetes.”
The fat underneath subcutaneous fat, called visceral fat, may surround your organs. Studies suggest that visceral fat raises your risk of disease.Fortunately, visceral fat can be lost with exercise, says Powell.
See your doctor
So how do you know if you have visceral fat?
“If you’re concerned, and your waist measures 35 inches or greater, talk to your doctor,” Powell says. “He or she may recommend a CT scan, which can show you visceral fat.”