In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.

About Dr. Snyderman

  • 10 Reasons to Take Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s Advice

Myths, Truths and Tips

  • It's True ... Dessert Can Be Dinner
  • 7 Medical Myths Busted

Real Weight-Loss Facts

  • How to Figure Your Metabolic Rate
  • What Labels Really Mean
  • The Ten Most Popular Supplements
  • The Shape of Your Health
  • Sleep Yourself Slimmer
  • All Fats Are Not Created Equal
  • A Sugar by Any Other Name
  • The Latest Crop of Diet Drugs
  • How Many Carbs Do You Really Need?
  • Free Lunch? Up-and-Coming Weight-Loss Drugs
  • Expert Q&A: Heart Disease
  • Ask Dr. Synderman a Question for Her Show

The Shape of Your Health

By: Nancy Snyderman, M.D.

                                                                                                            Patricia De La Rosa             

Apples: The Belly Burden


Apple bears the classic appearance of the middle-age spread, with weight around the stomach giving a barrel like tummy and narrow hips. An apple body shape—also known as an “android type”—occurs when higher levels of testosterone in the body cause fat to be stored around the stomach. It is actually more typical of men, which explains why they’re more prone to beer bellies. 


This belly fat is hyperactive, meaning it breaks down and enters the bloodstream readily. This was great in prehistoric times when a man’s body required ready supplies of quick-release fat to hunt animals for food. But since the only hunting some men do for food in modern times is hunting down a beer in the fridge, that same fat is more likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can raise cholesterol levels and lead to clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and other problems. 

When fat accumulates in the stomach and waist area, it doesn’t just build up under the skin, it also builds up inside the upper torso and gathers around the heart, liver, kidneys, and intestines. Some experts believe it can even begin to grow inside these organs, restricting blood flow and interfering with their function. Fat around the middle is largely visceral fat, a type of deep fat that drapes itself around internal organs and spews hormones and other chemicals, some of them harmful or inflammatory. One, for instance, is tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which can trigger insulin resistance. Visceral fat sets off reactions in the body that lead to changes in arteries, organs, and cells that result in heart disease, diabetes, and probably some cancers. The more abdominal fat, the greater the risk of developing these conditions earlier. Visceral fat is toxic fat. Studies also show that fat cells in the abdomen have a much greater influence on the hormone insulin than fat elsewhere. This means apples are more prone to diabetes. 


Apple-shaped women have higher rates of breast cancer. Although the exact relationship isn’t clear, one theory is that fat tissue stores estrogen—a hormone known to influence breast cancer. It may be that the more estrogen stored around your stomach and upper body, the higher your risk of the disease. Plus, some experts believe the excess insulin produced by women with abdominal fat could raise levels of insulin- like growth factor, high levels of which have been linked to breast tumors. 


Are you at risk for any of these health problems? Studies suggest that health risks begin to increase when a woman’s waist reaches 31.5 inches, and her risk jumps substantially once her waist expands to 35 inches or more. For a man, risk starts to climb at 37 inches, but it becomes a bigger worry once his waist reaches or exceeds 40 inches. One easy way to keep tabs on your risk is to mea sure your waist periodically. Then compare it with your height. If the circumference of your waist is less than half your height, you don’t need to worry.

Pears: Fat Chance  

Apple Pear
                                                                                                                       getty images


Being pear shaped may be a lot healthier than being apple shaped. The fat cells on the thighs and hips tend to break down slowly and are less likely to travel around the body and do damage. The pear shape is the traditional female shape because a woman’s body is primed to need fat that is slow burning, like thigh and hip fat, to provide enough energy for pregnancy and breast- feeding. I have three children and fed each one a different way. Kate, my oldest, is adopted and was thus bottle fed.


My second and third children were breast fed. One of the many benefits of breast- feeding is that it is one of the few ways of reducing a big thigh measurement. I can attest to that. My thighs slimmed down after months of feeding my babies. I’m not alone. Many women report the same kind of changes after breast- feeding. 
Hip and thigh fat may actually offer some unique safeguard against cardiovascular disease, particularly for women. Women with larger hips and more weight on their bottom and thighs are less likely to suffer heart attacks, angina, diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease. 

But not all researchers agree that hip fat is beneficial, since more lower- body fat generally means more fat— period—which can lead to higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And although heart conditions and strokes are rarer among pear shapes, they are more prone to ovarian cancer, breast cysts, and endometriosis. But with diet, exercise, and proper care, your pear shape can vanish, taking with it the increased risks of these health issues.

What to Do About the Shape You're in 

Shape Your Health
                                                                                                                            john lamb

So what can you do if you’re shaped more like an apple than a pear? And if you don’t like being a pear, can you downsize your thighs? While genetics play a major role in body shape, you can do something about your shape. Knowing your body shape measurements gives you a head start in protecting yourself and helps you reverse the course of diseases through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. Here’s how you can keep your shape in shape.


Look to your family tree to see how far your apple shape has fallen from that tree. Your family history adds to your risk of developing heart disease. If you have a family history of heart disease, you are at risk for heart disease. If your father had a heart attack before the age of fifty- six or if your mother had one before the age of sixty, you are considered at risk for heart disease—so you should take precautions. Losing even as few as 10 pounds can lower your heart disease risk.

Diet Myths That Keep Us FatExcerpted from:  by Nancy Snyderman, M.D. © 2009, Crown.

Get more weight-loss truths.





Home  |  Health Centers  |  Health A-Z  |  Staying Healthy  |  Diet & Fitness  |  Woman & Family  |   |   |  

also on iVision:  |   |   |   |   |   |   | 

 |   |  Site Map  |   | 

Copyright (c) 2000-2009 iVision Inc. All rights reserved. The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.