Look around and it’s easy to see that people come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For those of us carrying a few extra pounds, our shape may influence our risk for certain health conditions almost as much as our size. While it’s generally well known that being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk for several chronic health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension, it’s less well known that where our body stores those extra pounds can also affect our risk for certain chronic health conditions.
Apples vs. pears: The two main body shapes are classified as "apples" and "pears" based on the two different areas of the body where people tend to store excess fat. Apple-shaped people store excess body fat in their abdomen, mainly around the stomach and chest. Pear-shaped people store excess body fat below the waist in the hips, thighs and buttocks.
Several research studies have demonstrated that carrying excess abdominal fat (having an "apple" shape) increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. It’s thought that excess abdominal fat is more resistant to the actions of insulin, thereby increasing the risk for diabetes. The development of diabetes, in turn, increases the risk for heart disease and hypertension. Pear-shaped people, on the other hand, don’t seem to have as high a risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, but the excess weight carried below the waistline may contribute to varicose veins and orthopedic problems.
Determining your body shape: To determine if you are an apple or a pear, use one of the following three methods:
- Stand in front of a full-length mirror, preferably nude, take a look at your body shape and decide where the majority of your excess weight is stored.
- Assess your abdominal fat using a tape measure. Measure your waist just above the hipbone while you breathe out. To ensure an accurate measurement, don’t cinch the tape measure or pull in your stomach. Health risks appear to increase for women whose waist measures greater than 35 inches and for men whose waist measures more than 40 inches.
- Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, or WHR. Measure your waist at the smallest part and your hips at the widest part. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. The answer is your WHR. For example, if your waist is 32 inches and your hips 40 inches, your WHR is 0.80. A healthy WHR for women is 0.80 or below and for men is 1.0 or below.
The bottom line: A person’s body shape as well as their size influence the risk for many chronic health conditions. Whether you are an apple or a pear, if you are overweight or obese, consider taking action to improve your weight by eating healthfully and being more active. The good news is that when apples lose weight, they tend to lose it in the upper body, especially the stomach, and thus lower their risk. When pears lose weight, they also have a tendency to lose it in the upper body, meaning their overall shape may not change that much, but they are carrying around less weight, which helps with vein and orthopedic problems.