If you're female and overweight, don't count on that excess padding to protect you from osteoporosis. New research suggests that if the fat is in your belly, it could actually increase your risk of weakening bones. Investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the impact of "visceral" fat - the kind that surrounds internal organs - on bone density. The Mass General team looked at the effect of subcutaneous abdominal fat (that lies under the skin), bone marrow fat, total fat, and visceral fat on bone mineral density. Their study group was comprised of 50 premenopausal women who had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 30, indicating obesity. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, they looked at the bone marrow fat of the fourth vertebra (L4) in the lumber section of the spine and then used quantitative computed tomography to measure the bone mineral density of L4. They found that women with more visceral fat had increased bone marrow fat and decreased bone density. None of the other types of fat studied was associated with this decrease.
My take? Previous research has shown that visceral fat increases the risk for heart disease, and we know that the fat that surrounds internal organs in the abdomen is linked to increased risks of diabetes and metabolic syndrome as well. We used to think that excess weight protected women from osteoporosis, but this study suggests that it won't. Although genetics does contribute to developing visceral fat, poor diet and lack of exercise play significant roles as well. The good news is that you can protect yourself against osteoporosis the same way you can protect yourself from the increased risk of heart disease: eat less and exercise more.