Currently in the U.S., two-thirds of the population meets the requirements of being either obese or overweight. The significance of these two issues place millions of Americans at a higher risk of developing diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and other serious long-term health conditions.
Now a recent study suggests that obese men who feature distinct “beer bellies” may have a higher risk of developing fractures and frail bones than obese men whose fat has a tendency to gather at the buttocks and thighs.
Earlier research has shown that the bone health of women can be negatively impacted by belly fat, so when another recent study found that obese men suffered from more fractures than their non-obese counterparts, researchers at Harvard Medical School began asking the question of whether the type of fat mattered in men, as well.
The study did indeed find that obese men with excess belly fat suffered from much weaker bones than obese men whose fat was more displaced. While the study doesn’t prove a conclusive cause and effect, it does raise alarms that obese men need to worry about the loss of bone density in addition to heart disease and diabetes.
Bad to the Bones
Approximately 37 million men over the age of 20 qualify as obese, according to data complied by the National Center for Health Statistics. While obesity is known for increasing the risk of a number of conditions previously mentioned, researchers long believed that body fat and obesity provided the body stronger bones and a lower risk of developing osteoporosis and other fracture risks.
However, that long held belief was destroyed by the studies that examined the link between obesity and fractures as well as those that linked belly fat to lower bone density and weaker bones. Researchers now believe that their previous assumption was actually the opposite of how the body actually deals with excess weight, and that obesity should now be considered a known risk factor for osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures.
Details of the Study
Researches at Harvard studied 35 obese men in fair health who had an average age of 34. Each participant in the study had a body mass index of over 36.5; values that exceed 30 meet the criteria for obesity.
The men volunteered to undergo a CT scan of the abdomen and thighs to assess fat and muscles mass. They were then divided into two groups based on whether they had more belly fat located under muscle tissue in the abdomen or more fat located under the skin in the buttocks and thigh region of the body.
CT scans using high-resolution images were then taken by researchers of the men’s forearms and wrists, and used a sophisticated computer analysis to determine bone strength and predict future risk of fracture. This same technique is used in mechanical engineering to ascertain the breaking point of materials used in bridge and airplane design.
Because this was one of the first attempts to measure bone density using this method, researchers were at a loss to determine what the normal value for bone health should be. However, researchers were certain that men with excess belly fat had weaker bones, and predicted these men were 25 percent more likely to suffer a bone break than men with more superficial fat.
Researchers hope this study will provide overweight individuals with just one more compelling reason to attempt weight loss.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Benjamin Crusan, a Ridgefield, WA dentist.