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Men's Health

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Belly Fat Bad for Men's Bones

Belly Fat Bad for the Bones: Study Details continued...

Their average body mass index, or BMI, was 36.5; values of 30 and higher are considered obese.

The men underwent CT scans of the abdomen and thigh to assess fat and muscle mass. Then they were divided into two groups, depending on whether they had more visceral (belly) fat located deep under the muscle tissue in the abdomen or more fat located below the skin in the thigh and buttock areas.

Then the researchers took high-resolution CT scans of the men's forearms and wrists. A sophisticated computer technique was used to assess bone strength and predict fracture risk.

"It's a technique that is frequently used in mechanical engineering to determine the breaking point of materials used in the design of bridges and airplanes, among other things," Bredella says.

Because use of the technique to measure bone strength is so novel, researchers don't know for sure what normal values should be. "But what we can say is that the more belly fat a man had, the weaker his bones," she says.

Overall, the researchers predicted that obese men with deep belly fat would be 25% more likely to break a bone than obese men with more superficial fat.

They also found an association between greater muscle mass and increased bone strength; however BMI and age had no effect on bone strength.

What to Do?

So what's an obese man with a lot of belly fat to do?

Where you gain fat is for the most part genetically determined, Bredella says. "But it is one more reason not to gain excess weight in the first place," she says.

Weight-bearing exercises like brisk walking and aerobics are "really good for building strong bone," she says. And resistance and strength training exercises such as lifting weights and climbing stairs are also helpful, Bredella says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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