Updated 02 September 2014

Where you body fat sits shows your high blood pressure risk

Those with lots of fat around their tummy are more strongly associated with high blood pressure risk than overall obesity.

People with fat around their abdominal area are at greater risk of developing hypertension when compared to those with similar body mass index but fat concentrations elsewhere on the body, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Site-specific fat accumulation

Obesity is a known risk factor for hypertension, or high blood pressure, and it is widely reported that the location of fat on a person's body can lead to increased risk of other health issues like heart disease and cancer.

However, the relationship between hypertension and overall obesity versus site-specific fat accumulation is unclear.

For this study, 903 patients enrolled in the Dallas Heart Study were followed for an average of seven years to track development of hypertension.

Hypertension was classified as a systolic blood pressure of greater or equal to 140, diastolic blood pressure of greater or equal to 90, or initiation of blood pressure medications.

Read: Symptoms of hypertension

Patients also received imaging of visceral fat, or fat located deep in the abdominal cavity between the organs; subcutaneous fat, or visible fat located all over the body; and lower-body fat.

"Generally speaking, visceral fat stores correlate with the 'apple shape' as opposed to the 'pear shape,' so having centrally located fat when you look in the mirror tends to correlate with higher levels of fat inside the abdomen," said senior author Dr Aslan T. Turer, a  cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Fat around the kidneys

At the end of the study period, 25 percent of patients developed hypertension. While higher BMI was associated with increased incidence of hypertension, when abdominal fat content, overall fat content and lower-body fat content were factored in, only abdominal fat remained independently associated with hypertension.

Read: Am I at risk for hypertension?

The relationship between abdominal fat and hypertension did not change when factoring in gender, age or race.

The strongest correlation between abdominal fat and hypertension was observed with retroperitoneal fat, which is a type of visceral fat located behind the abdominal cavity and largely around the kidneys.

"The high incidence of hypertension and presence of retroperiotoneal fat could suggest that the effects from fat around the kidneys are influencing the development of hypertension," Turer said.

"This link could open new avenues for the prevention and management of hypertension. The finding of the fat around the kidney is a novel one and we do not know specifically what the 'in the mirror' correlates are."

Read more:

Eat more fibre to trim belly fat
Primary hypertension
Symptoms of hypertension
Hypertension and diet
How to reduce a beer belly

Image: Belly fat from Shutterstock

See breaking news and the hottest health tips before anybody else by joining South Africa’s biggest and best health community, like health24 on Facebook now!

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Hypertension expert

Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules