Higher Body Fat in Women May Protect against Death Due to Heart Disease: Study

Written by Sarah Cownley
Published on

Higher Body Fat in Women May Pro...

According to a new UCLA study, women who have higher body fat are less likely to die from heart disease. While it may sound like the opposite of what we have been told in the past, this evolving research uses body composition to make the conclusion rather than just looking at overall BMI in men and women together.

The study shows that while men and women with high muscle mass are less likely to die from heart disease, women who have higher levels of body fat, regardless of their muscle mass, also have a greater degree of protection than women with less fat.

Researchers used body composition data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey completed from 1999-2004 and cardiovascular disease data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2014. A total of 11,463 individuals aged 20 and older were used for the analysis. They were divided into four body composition groups, including low muscle mass and low body fat; low muscle and high fat; high muscle and low fat, and high muscle and high fat. Heart disease-related mortality rates were calculated separately for each of these groups.

For the study, researchers analyzed this national health data collected over a 15-year period. It was found that heart disease-related death in women with high muscle mass and high body fat was 42% lower than women with low muscle mass and low body fat. It was noted that women who had high muscle mass and low body fat did not appear to have a higher degree of protection.

In men, those with high muscle mass and high body fat, their risk of death from heart disease decreased by 26%. Having high muscle mass and low body fat decreased their risk by 60%.

Rise in Heart Attacks Affecting Women

According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that 5 million men and 3 million women have heart attacks annually. Although there is a wide gender gap in the cardiovascular event, an equal number of men and women still die from heart disease.

The incidence of heart attacks appears to be increasing among women between the ages of 35 and 54. Recent research has also found that women have significantly higher levels of risk factors that are associated with heart disease compared to men.

This study helps to show the importance of recognizing physiological differences between women and men. These differences should be considered by physicians when assessing risk factors of death from a heart attack.

Knowing that the difference in body fat in men and women may modify the risk, researchers believe there is a need to develop sex-appropriate guidelines. These current guidelines advise patients on exercise and nutrition, but this study shows that there should be different advice for men and women. It may be necessary for women to focus more on building muscle mass than losing weight, the study authors say.


On any matter relating to your health or well-being, please check with an appropriate health professional. No statement herein is to be construed as a diagnosis, treatment, preventative, or cure for any disease, disorder or abnormal physical state. The statements herein have not been evaluated by the Foods and Drugs Administration or Health Canada. Dr. Marchione and the doctors on the Bel Marra Health Editorial Team are compensated by Bel Marra Health for their work in creating content, consulting along with formulating and endorsing products.