Too much body fat has long been linked with adverse health outcomes, but the location of the fat may also be just as important.

According to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people who carry too much fat around the abdomen may be at an increased risk for heart disease and cancer, compared to individuals with a similar body mass index (BMI) who carry fat on different areas of the body, Medical News Today reported.

Previous research has found that obese or overweight people with the same BMI have varied outcomes when it comes to disease and death.  This new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests that ectopic fat – which refers to fat located where it’s not supposed to be, like in the abdominal region – may explain this difference in health conditions.

Researchers led by Kathryn A. Britton, an instructor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, examined 3,086 patients, with an average age of 50, for up to seven years.  Using CT scans, Britton and her colleagues were able to examine deposits of ectopic fat located in the abdomen, around the heart and around the aorta.

Of the patients studied, 90 had heart-related events, 141 developed cancer and 71 died (from a variety of causes).  The participants with more ectopic fat deposits were much more likely to go on to develop these types of health conditions.

According to Medical News Today, it is possible that the presence of abdominal fat is an indication of too much fat around the internal organs.

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