Why does body fat distribution matter?

March 2, 2017 by John Quinn - Product Owner - mPort

Body fat distribution differs from person to person. Distribution of body fat is a more important indicator of health risk than percentage of fat.

This article is Part 3 of “The Body Fat Series”:

1. Body Fat – the good, the bad and the ugly

2. Why should we care about Body Fat?

3. Why does Body Fat distribution matter?

4. How does Body Fat estimation work?

5. Comparing other techniques of Body Fat estimation


Body fat distribution: Body shapes

“Apple shapes”

  • Tend to have more fat located centrally at the abdomen.
  • Carry a higher risk of some health problems, particularly type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
  • Is more prominent in men, postmenopausal women, smokers, heavy drinkers, and people with sedentary lifestyles.
  • Waist-to-hip ratio is an indicator of risk.
  • Abdominal fat experiences much more enzyme activity, dumping more fatty acids into the bloodstream.

“Pear shapes”

  • Have a higher proportion of fat below the waist.
  • Have a lower risk of serious health problems, compared to when fat is centrally located.
  • More susceptible to orthopedic problems, cellulite and varicose veins.
  • Hip-thigh fat activity is more stagnant, but is more difficult to lose than abdominal fat.


body fat distribution - apple vs pear body shapes

Fat distribution can vary by ethnicity.

  • Asian adults are more prone to visceral and central obesity than Europeans.
  • Mediterranean women are prone to fat gain in the outer thighs.

There is a wide range of body fat distribution in both lean and obese adults. The known, major environmental factors that affect body fat distribution include alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, and the timing of onset of childhood obesity. In addition, strong genetic factors seem to play a role in regional fat gain and loss.

Targeting Certain Areas

There are variations between men and women, and with the use of exercise. Obese men tend to lose more visceral (internal) fat while obese women tend to lose more subcutaneous fat.

Exercise seems to result in more subcutaneous fat loss. Diet alone results in more visceral fat loss (and less surface fat loss). This explains how you can lose weight – but not necessarily have any radical change in appearance.

Subcutaneous fat can be compared to the layers of an onion. When fat loss occurs, it comes off layer by layer from the whole of the body, rather than a particular place. The way fat is shed differs from person to person, but it tends to go from the most recent place it appeared.


Cellulite occurs when underlying fat deposits begin to push through layers of collagen fibres, or connective tissue, under the skin. Connective tissue can be weakened by hormones, lack of exercise and muscle tone, excess fat, and poor circulation.

As fat loss occurs the net becomes compressed – making it difficult for the blood supply to readily remove the fat from these stubborn areas.

Spot reducing of fat storage

Contrary to what the infomercials suggest, there is no such thing as spot reduction. Fat is lost throughout the body in a pattern dependent upon genetics, gender (hormones), and age. Overall body fat must be reduced to lose fat in any particular area (particularly subcutaneous fat stores). Although fat is lost or gained throughout the body, it seems the first area to get fat, or the last area to become lean, is the midsection (in men and some women, especially after menopause) and hips and thighs (in women and few men). Sit-ups, crunches, leg-hip raises, leg raises, hip adduction, hip abduction, etc. will only exercise the muscles under the fat.

Exercise should always be a part of any fat loss program – but vigorously exercising a specific body part will not have any influence on local fat in that area. This myth has been debunked again and again.

High-repetition (e.g. 20-30 reps) weight training will not lead to greater fat loss, compared to lower reps with a higher weight.

The ideal program for fat loss would include the combination of proper diet, weight training, and cardio exercise.

Track your health with mPort

Get to know your body with an mPort 3D body map. It’s the easiest way to see your measurements and track your health. Find your nearest body mapping pod at

Read more on:


Part of “The Body Fat Series”:

1. Body Fat – the good, the bad and the ugly

2. Why should we care about Body Fat?

3. Why does Body Fat distribution matter?

4. How does Body Fat estimation work?

5. Comparing other techniques of Body Fat estimation


  1. US National Library of Medice – National Institutes of Health – Role of Body Fat Distribution and the Metabolic Complications of Obesity:
  2. Healthy Eater:
  3. Weight Loss: