New Study Uncovers a Surprising Health Risk for Pear-Shaped Women


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  96 comments   :  33,106 Views

You're probably familiar with the terms "apple" and "pear" when they apply to body shapes. People who are apple shaped tend to carry their extra weight in the abdomen region, but usually have relatively slim arms and legs. Men tend to be apple shaped, but many women are, too. Pear shaped individuals, by contrast, tend to carry fat in their lower body: hips, butt, and thighs.

Besides making our fat stores seem cuter by naming them after fruit (hehe), it's important to know which shape you are because it can help you determine your disease risk. It's has long been established that apple shapes are less health because excess fat storage around the abdomen is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Pear shapes are often touted as less risky—healthy, even—especially when compared to abdominal fat storage.

I'm a pear shape and always figured that I wasn't at risk for health problems as a result. Even if I gained weight in the future, it would likely be in my hips and thighs. "No biggie," I thought. "Pear shapes are healthier, even when they're overweight." So I thought. I was really surprised when I read about a new study published in the July 14 issue of Journal of the American Geriatric Society that associated fat storage in the lower body with its own set of health risks.

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine who studied 8,745 post-menopausal women (ages 65-79) as part of the Women's Health Initiative have made the first-ever connection between obesity, poorer cognitive function, and body shape. For every one-point increase in a woman's BMI, her memory score (on the Modified Mini-Mental Status Examination) dropped by one point. According to researchers, pear-shaped women experienced more deterioration in memory and brain function than apple-shaped women did.

Researchers speculate that hormones released by the predominant type of fat in the body can affect cognition and memory. Different kinds of fat release different hormones (called cytokines), which have unique effects on the body. In other words, apple fat is different than pear fat, and both have their own associated health risks thanks to the cytokines they release.

Storing fat in your lower body is often considered healthier, but it seems like pear shapes aren't at zero risk for problems. No matter where you store body fat, you're trading one set of health risks (cognitive decline) for another (heart disease and diabetes). I used to think that I was protected thanks to genes that make my body store fat in my hips and thighs, but apparently that isn't 100% true, according to this study. This is a good reminder that, in most cases, excess fat isn't good for us, no matter where it is stored. While we can't pick and choose where you body stores fat or where it loses it, we can do our best to control unwanted weight gain and drop excessive body fat to improve our health.

Are you an apple shape or a pear shape? Do the health concerns associated with your body shape concern you?

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    The key word in the above article is "speculate". Until the researchers actually KNOW what caused the above association in that particular study, I am not going to worry about it.

    Obviously, a healthy weight is good to maintain for a variety of reasons that researchers actually KNOW about. Not sure why this scare tactic is being used. - 8/28/2016   10:19:56 AM
  • 95
    I am a pear shape. I never really worried about my health risks until now. I already have a bad memory (which makes sense due to my shape) and would hate to see it get worse. My memory is already one of my fears for the future and only motivates me more to drop the weight. - 9/29/2010   11:12:15 AM
  • 94
    One say tomato one say tamto, sone say potato one say patoto. Lets just call the whole thing off. I am a pear. I heard apples are risk for heart problems. We all are checking out of here. I'd rather be checking out of here doing the best I could. AMEN! - 9/21/2010   12:17:04 PM
    I am sory for you "pear people". I lived in hope of looking like you one day. This just proves that life is life. Accept it; do the best you can; enjoy it; be grateful. - 9/15/2010   1:49:28 PM
  • 92
    Nichole, you cite the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by posting a link to the issue, but point to Science News for quotations from Dr. Diane Kerwin. However a search of the Journal's July issue index page brings up no articles with Dr. Kerwin. A little research brings up that it was a July online release of the August issue.

    Also, please understand the Modified Mini-Mental Status exam is a very brief one. 8 points to score anywhere from 1-5 points, depending on the task (Think as varied as a newborn's APGAR) for a total of 30 points. I really have a hard time believing weight is the only thing affecting the women's mental state in this study, despite controlling for age, education and vascular health. This just isn't that sensitive a tool. - 9/10/2010   6:48:58 PM
  • 91
    avacado :) - 9/10/2010   11:42:35 AM
  • 90
    My dear MIL was trim and slim all her life - never overweight - and exercised daily - and she still got Alzheimer's as did her Mom & Aunt. My grandmother also was never overweight at any point in her life and was active even when Alzheimer's struck. Genes are the most important factor!!! And neither would have been considered either pear or apple shaped. - 9/9/2010   3:58:38 PM
  • 89
    Pear and the cognitive thing concerns me because I have a grandmother with Alzheimer's and her mother and brother had it too. Another incentive to get healthy!! - 9/9/2010   11:46:31 AM
  • 88
    Pear, for sure. - 9/8/2010   11:56:42 PM
  • 87
    we all need to get rid of our fat.....eating a healthy diet is great to combat memory loss....EXERCISE is the number one thing to do if we wish to avoid the problem - now if I can get up off my butt - 9/8/2010   6:18:49 AM
  • 86
    I'm pear shape and since I've had 2 kids, I also carry weight in my belly. This blog is even more motivation to take off the weight. I'll always have a butt, thighs and my 'six shootter' hips but if I lose the excess weight they will be less prominent. And I'll be healthier (both mentally and physically) longer for my kids. - 9/7/2010   3:52:34 PM
  • 85
    And I am an apple shape and have the belly to prove it. (To follow in Wendy's line of comment.) - 9/7/2010   2:44:38 PM
  • 84
    I am a pear shape, and have the thighs to prove it! LOL. No matter how hard I work out my thighs, I'll always take weight off my upper body before my lower body. Go figure. - 9/7/2010   1:47:57 PM
  • 83
    I'm unhappy to be an apple and have big difficulties getting rid of the midriff fat. however, I have always had slim hips and (woo hoo!) am delighted about the good news. - 9/7/2010   9:23:16 AM
  • 82
    So, I may not get heart disease, but I'm more likely to become senile quicker than my apple counterparts. It's always something. I just love being a woman. lol - 9/6/2010   10:41:31 PM
  • 81
    I'm pear shaped. I am concerned enough about health risks that I am trying to get into better shape. Other than that, what will be will be. - 9/6/2010   8:21:40 PM
    I'm a pear- 27 in waist and 41 inch hips, um yikes! I do remember other studies saying pear-shaped women averaged higher cognitive skills in their 20s and 30s, so maybe there's a relationship between the results in these studies. - 9/6/2010   6:56:18 PM
  • 79
    Interesting as a guy I am not going to get into the fruity discussion!! Although the mention of Alzheimer's was disturbing as it runs in my family. - 9/6/2010   5:48:59 PM
  • 78
    I'm a pear; a happy pear. I weigh less than I used to and hope to keep up the downward trend over time. - 9/6/2010   4:23:29 PM
  • 77
    When was there suddenly no such thing as an hourglass shape? I must have missed that memo. I suppose if I were to really pack 'em on, I would be closer to an apple than to a pear, but I never really lost definition in my waist vs. my hips, it just became less so. I suppose there's an hourglass in there somewhere. - 9/6/2010   2:19:50 PM
  • MURIEL1967
    I am a pear and I work hard to loose weight to stay in good shape. - 9/6/2010   12:42:16 PM
  • 75
    I'm not going to worry about it any more than worrying about the air we breathe, have no choice, no other "air" out there to choose from anyway. Someday, another "study" will come out saying being born is bad for our health................. - 9/5/2010   9:29:49 PM
  • SUSANGO123
    I am pear shaped and I can't stand it. It would be nice if all the weight I had lost came off more in my hips; not so. My waist hip ratio is .73 (waist 31 inches; hips 42 inches) and I can't seem to get the weight off my hips. So, I guess I am going to have to accept that it is what it is. - 9/5/2010   6:38:22 PM
    I am a pear but I will probably always be a pear, have been dieting and exercising all my life but nothing seems to change unless I go to a diet clinic, - 9/5/2010   6:07:02 PM
    Funny, after I had kids, I went from an hour glass (please don't reply with the "theres no such thing lecture) to a pear. I thought memory loss had more to do with having kids, since thats what all of us young mothers were teasing each other about. but I also have pcos,and its very hormonal, so maybe you guys are onto something there.

    thanx. - 9/5/2010   5:39:22 PM
    Pear, with extreme waist to hip ratio. So one more thing to watch out for, better keep up with the Suduko! - 9/5/2010   1:49:17 PM
  • 70
    I'm a pear.... with diabetes. So there. and my mind is going into the sewer. Cause I'm a sewer (and reader and crafter, all sedentary) not a walker. - 9/5/2010   11:12:38 AM
  • 69
    As Roseanne RosannaDanna would say, "If it's not one thing, it's another. It's always something!" - 9/5/2010   10:23:07 AM
  • 68
    I am an apple with diabetes! Working hard to change that. I have known that
    the belly fat is not healthy it just took me a long time to realize I need to change my life. I have a long journey, but have cleared one hurdle - off insulin. - 9/5/2010   7:43:54 AM
  • 67
    I'm a pear - no wonder my mind is going!!!!! - 9/5/2010   7:16:41 AM
    Wow I never thought I was an avocado. - 9/5/2010   7:02:41 AM
  • 65
    Are we surprised? Apples are prone to diabetes, that is bad, but PEARS....always thought they were OK! ha....truth comes out!
    I am a PEAR, I learned to live with it. I also know, that there are NO special exercises to help this, but CARDIO does help! - 9/5/2010   1:57:39 AM
  • 64
    I am glad I'm changing my pear...hmmm...what will I be now...a modified hourglass!
    I've always considered myself very intelligent, even passing Mensa tests. I'll be ... if I'm gonna lose that! - 9/4/2010   11:29:06 PM
  • 63
    Well this is pretty depressing- I am definitely a pear :-( Just one more reason to get this weight off & keep it off! - 9/4/2010   9:46:33 PM
  • 62
    One more pear and now I have a new worry-here I thought we had dodged part of the health issues by not being an apple and this article puts a whole new perspective on things. So far mind seems pretty good so best get this weight off and keep it! - 9/4/2010   9:36:17 PM
    I'm a pear apple, and I have a lousy memory. And I won't be 50 for another couple of months. - 9/4/2010   9:28:21 PM
  • JAY75REY
    Apple in the house! The guts of glory! :-(

    Yep, health risks are now becoming realities, big reason for taking charge and joining SP. Pre-diabetes (in control, due to 40 lbs lost, getting normal readings now).
    High cholesterol and triglycerides:meds to help keep them low now.
    and, a fatty liver (in 2009, appears to have been mitigated with the weight loss). Yuk! - 9/4/2010   9:07:48 PM
  • 59
    I am an apple shape and I hate it it's all in my gut and I look 9 month's pregnant :( - 9/4/2010   8:42:50 PM
    I am avocado shape (just round below the waist). How is that beneficial? I don't see any benefit. I just want to get the fat off and be a lean muscle machine. - 9/4/2010   8:31:12 PM
  • 57
    Pear and that just stinks! - 9/4/2010   8:12:31 PM
    Pear! Yes, I'm concerned and that's why I'm doing something about it with Sparkpeople. - 9/4/2010   8:11:31 PM
  • 55
    apple - 9/4/2010   7:41:03 PM
  • 54
    i am pear shaped all my weight goes to my butt hips and thighs - 9/4/2010   7:25:46 PM
  • 53
    Yes it does concern me but I am on the slow track to becoming the woman I see myself as when I close my eye. Slowly but surely I am beginning to see that woman when I look in the mirror. - 9/4/2010   6:08:52 PM
  • 52
    Can you be both an apple and a pear? I think I am both. - 9/4/2010   4:54:45 PM
    I'm a pear - must be why I keep "forgetting" to avoid high fat, high sugar food! :) - 9/4/2010   4:47:51 PM
  • 50
    pear, yes concerned especially because I am 'obese'. - 9/4/2010   4:42:08 PM
    Avocado. Not as unhealthy as a pear and only slightly unhealthier than an apple.

    And the struggle continues...

    It was Winston "Apple" Churchill who said, "Never surrender," right? - 9/4/2010   4:19:52 PM
    I'm a pear and I'm in my early 50's. I have very good memory too.
    I'm just relieved that the news isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I have always thought that if we are all over weight it's not healthy for anyone no matter what type of body you own.
    So for me this isn't a big surprise. Just glad to know its not worse news!
    So lets just keep on losing wt. and we will all be much healthier! - 9/4/2010   2:44:53 PM
  • 47
    Ugh, another thing to freak out about. I feel it does not matter what my fruit shape is, as long as I continue to work towards and maintain good health, both physical and mental. - 9/4/2010   2:05:54 PM

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