Large thighs in obese people may indicate a lower risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, according to a study published in Endocrine Connections. The Chinese research has found that carrying more weight on the thighs could be a marker of better heart health in men and women who are obese and overweight.
Although overweight people are more likely to be at risk for heart disease, this new study sheds light on those who are already in the risk group who may be more at risk than others. Researchers hope that this new information about thigh circumference may be useful for targeting patients with obesity for earlier detection of high blood pressure.
Lead author Dr. Zhen Yang from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine investigated the association between thigh circumference and blood pressure. He looked at a population of 9,250 Chinese men and women aged 40 or older, of which 5,348 were overweight and obese, and 4,172 were normal weight.
Yang and his team observed a significant link between larger thigh circumference (more than 55cm in men and 54cm in women) and a lower prevalence of high blood pressure in both men and women. Those with a smaller thigh circumference (50cm for women and 51 cm for men) were more likely to have elevated blood pressure. This was found consistently independently of age, BMI (body mass index), and waist circumference.
“In contrast to stomach fat, leg fat may be beneficial for metabolism. The most likely cause of this association is that there is more thigh muscle and/or fat deposited under the skin which secretes various beneficial substances that help keep blood pressure in a relatively stable range.” Dr. Yang explains.
This study helps to outline the ease and low cost of circumference measurements that health care providers can easily perform. In the past circumference measurements have been used to evaluate the risk of certain diseases. For example, large waist circumference is well known to be associated with elevated blood pressure and a small thigh circumference is associated with diabetes.
A Major Public Health Problem
High blood pressure is a major public health problem that affects more than one billion people worldwide and is the leading cause of mortality and disability. Many factors can contribute to high blood pressure including lack of exercise, extra weight, smoking, or having too much salt in the diet. Elevated blood pressure can put extra strain on the heart and arteries, which can lead to a build-up of fat in blood vessels, limiting blood flow. This can increase the risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
Dr. Yang and his team plan to further their investigations by measuring body composition including thigh fat mass, thigh muscle mass, thigh bone mass, and thigh proteins. They believe that different proportions of these components may provide links between the composition of thighs and blood pressure which could help to develop future treatments and reduce the risk of heart disease.