Study: Higher Body Fat in Women May Protect Against Heart Disease Death

March 23, 2021
Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

The researchers analyzed body composition data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004) and cardiovascular disease data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2014).

A new UCLA study shows that although men and women who have high muscle mass are less likely to die from heart disease, it appears that women who have higher levels of body fat, regardless of their muscle mass, have a greater degree of protection than women with less fat.

The researchers analyzed body composition data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004) and cardiovascular disease data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2014). They looked at 11,463 individuals, 20 years of age and older, who were then divided into 4 body-composition groups: low muscle mass and low body fat, low muscle and high fat, high muscle and low fat, and high muscle and high fat. Following this, heart disease-related mortality rates were calculated for each of these groups.

The data showed that heart disease-related death in women with low muscle mass and low body fat was 42% lower than in a comparison group of women with low muscle mass and low body fat. However, women who had high muscle mass and low body fat did not appear to have a significant advantage over the comparison group. Among men, although having high muscle mass and high body fat decreased their risk by 26%, having high muscle mass and low body fat decreased their risk by 60%, according to the study.

The findings highlight the importance of recognizing physiological differences between women and men when considering body composition and the risk of death from heart disease, particularly when it comes to how differences in body fat may modify that risk, the study authors said.

Further, the research underscores the need to develop sex-appropriate guidelines with respect to exercise and nutrition as preventive strategies against the development of cardiovascular disease. With this, the study authors note that it may be important for women to focus more on building muscle mass than losing weight.

REFERENCE

In women, higher body fat may protect against heart disease death, study shows. UCLA. https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/body-fat-may-protect-women-against-heart-disease. Published March 16, 2021. Accessed March 17, 2021.