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Are you an apple or a pear?

Weight around the hips is healthier than around the belly

How your weight is distributed may be even more important than how much weight you have in the first place, at least when it comes to determining risks to your health. If you are carrying around too much weight in your upper body, your health is at far greater risk than if you are carrying extra weight around your hips, buttocks, and thighs.

All of that excessive fat above the hips, around the belly and in the upper torso has been found by researchers to be associated with an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as a host of other ailments.

To assess whether your weight distribution puts you at higher risk, ask yourself whether your body more closely resembles the shape of an apple or the shape of a pear. "Apples" carry extra weight in the upper body and are often bigger at the waist than in the hips—traits found more often in men than in women. "Pears," on the other hand, carry their weight low. Their waists are smaller than their hips. They are usually women.

A more precise assessment can be obtained by measuring your hips and waist, and then dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement. If the result is 0.75 or less, you are pear-shaped. If the result is 0.75 to 0.80, you are mildly apple-shaped. And a result greater than 0.80 puts you squarely in the apple category. If that's the case, you'd benefit from directing some of your energy toward taking off some pounds in the right places.

That may be easier said than done, however. According to a team of researchers at Rockefeller University, humans have a gene that tips the brain off when the body has stored all the fat it needs to get by and it is best to stop eating. But mutations in that gene can prevent it from signaling when it's time to push away from the table, the researchers have suggested, resulting in chronic overeating for some.

If you are unlucky enough to have inherited such an "obesity gene," proper exercise will behoove you all the more.

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Updated on October 8, 1995