Healthy Weight?

Why being lean may raise heart and diabetes risks

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Being overweight isn't good for your health, but being thin doesn't necessarily mean you're off the hook for illnesses like diabetes or heart disease.

According to a new study by an international group of researchers, lean-looking people who had a specific variant of a gene that regulates where and how much body fat is stored also had higher levels of cholesterol and sugar in the blood--which can increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes--than people with a different form of the gene.

It's all about the kind of fat you store in your body. Those in the study with the lean gene did not have much fat under the skin, the more visible kind that most people have. Rather, they stored it deeper in the body, in tissues like muscle and within organs like the liver. There's a growing body of research that suggests that so-called visceral fat can be more dangerous to your health than fat deposited just beneath the skin. While subcutaneous fat is largely inert, visceral fat cells secrete agents that can impair your body's ability to break down glucose from food and can boost levels of unhealthy fats in your blood.

It's a reminder that even people who look lean may be at risk for heart disease and diabetes, so it's important to get regular blood tests to check your cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose levels. Good health is more than skin deep.

Sources, from left: Science; Nature Genetics; National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University; PLoS One; Institute of Food Technologists meeting

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[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

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