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Health, Science & Tech

Race and Ethnicity May be Factors in Risk of Fat Around the Heart

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health may shed light on some of the risk factors heart disease – namely that race and ethnicity may place a role in a man’s likelihood of accumulating fat around the heart.

“This is important because fat around the heart has been shown to be a risk factor of cardiovascular disease,” said Samar El Khoudary, an assistant professor of epidemiology and the study's lead author.

The finding indicates that it may be useful to take into account a man’s race and ethnicity as well as where on his body he is building excess fat. For instance, it seems that an African American man carrying excess weight primarily around his mid-section has a higher likelihood of more fat around the heart than if a person was to gain weight fairly evenly throughout the body.

“Since it’s kind of, very, adjacent to the tissue of the heart and it shares the vessels with that tissue, the heart fat itself actually was found to be able to secrete produce an inflammatory marker and molecules that may harm the heart,” said El Khoudary.

The analysis included 1,199 men who were white or black from Allegheny County, Japanese-American from Hawaii and Japanese or Korean. Other findings include that compared to white men, Japanese and Japanese-American men are at similar risk of having more fat around their hearts if they have more fat in their abdomens, with BMI having less of an impact. For Korean men, it seems those with higher BMIs have a higher risk of fat around the heart, with abdominal fat mattering less.

These findings could help inform physicians or help them in treatment options.

“For designing specific prevention to reduce the amount of the heart fat based on the race and ethnicity of the man as well as where they store fat on their body,” said El Khoudary.

Going forward, El Khoudary said it needs to be determined whether concentrating efforts to reduce overall body fat or fat in the abdomen will help decrease fat around the heart. Also, since this study looked only at men, El Khoudary said a similar study is being done on women.