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The Skinny on Fat
 Weight Management Feature Story

The Skinny on Fat
Obesity treatments may one day target a slimming type of 'brown fat'

The Skinny on Fat(HealthDay News) -- A kind of fat that makes you thin? That's what scientists are saying about brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, a type of calorie-burning fat that generates heat. It's what helps babies and young children stay warm.

Several studies have now shown that this type of fat is also present in adults and that people who have more of it tend to be leaner -- a finding that could lead to new obesity treatments.

"This is something that opens a new vista of maybe drugs that will treat obesity in a more effective manner," Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist with New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay.

As a nation of overweight people, few of us wish for more body fat. But not all fat is equal.

White fat, the type we accumulate in the abdomen, on the thighs, around the buttocks and under the skin, stores energy for future needs, says the Joslin Diabetes Center. Brown fat, by contrast, burns energy.

Abdominal fat that lies deep within the abdominal cavity is particularly dangerous. It is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery, the guide says.

The good news is that this type of abdominal fat, known as visceral fat, responds to diet and exercise. To help fight abdominal fat, try doing 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity and strength training, the Family Health Guide suggests.

Meanwhile, scientists continue to explore the role that brown fat plays in regulating body weight.

In one of three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, a team of Boston researchers showed not only that adults possess brown fat but that the amount of brown fat varies by age, glucose levels and levels of obesity.

Younger people were more likely to have larger amounts of brown fat, and that fat was more active during colder weather. Brown fat was also more common in adults who were thin and had normal blood glucose levels, the researchers found.

Overweight or obese people were less likely to have substantial amounts of brown fat. People older than 64 years who also had high body mass index (BMI) scores were six times less likely to have substantial amounts of brown fat, suggesting that higher amounts of the fat might protect against age-related obesity.

An obesity cure, however, is a long way off. If you're looking to shed a few pounds, stick with the tried-and-true. And, when barriers seem to get in the way, consider ways to overcome them, as suggested by the Weight-control Information Network:

  • I don't have time. Sneak in physical activity by taking the stairs rather than an elevator or getting off the bus a stop early. Make healthy meals to freeze and eat later.
  • It costs too much. Start a walking group to walk around the mall, a school track or a local park. Eat healthfully by buying in bulk and opting for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.
  • I can't do it alone. Recruit others to be active with you. Sign up for a fun exercise class. Suggest a healthy potluck day at work and plan healthy meals with your family.
  • I don't like physical activity. You don't have to go to the gym to be active. Dance, walk, ice skate or garden. Explore options that appeal to you.
  • I don't like healthy foods. Learn to prepare your favorite foods in a healthy way.
  • I don't know enough about it. Talk to your doctor, a fitness professional or a registered dietician to learn more.
  • I'm not motivated. When you feel like quitting, think about your biggest reasons for being healthy and try mixing things up to stay interested.

On the Web

To learn more about a healthy weight, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Spyros Mezitis, M.D., Ph.D., endocrinologist, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City; April 9, 2009, New England Journal of Medicine; Joslin Diabetes Center, news releases, March 6, 2007, and April 8, 2009; Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide (; Weight-control Information Network (
Author: Karen Pallarito
Publication Date: May 31, 2010
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