Big thighs hardly go along with the current ideal of beauty but from a medical point of views they do have their advantages: Because sturdy thighs with a circumference of 60 cm are associated with cardiac health. Men and women below this magic borderline suffer from cardiac diseases significantly more often and thus have the risk to die earlier. These are the results of a study made by Berit Heitmann at the Institute for Preventive Medicine at the university hospital in Copenhagen/Denmark. Here she perhaps discovered a new parameter and marker of the cardiovascular risk.
Fat: Dangerous or harmless?
A u-form relationship between the Body Mass Index (BMI) and mortality is already confirmed. Both, a too low and a too high BMI accordingly are associated with disease and death. While with overweight the high share of fat is responsible for an increased risk of death, it most likely is the too low share of free fat with underweight. In regard to the cardiovascular risk the BMI proved to be not quite as convincing as the measuring of the central share of fat like for example the waist to hip ratio or the waist to height ratio – these are the results of a meta-analysis (Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2008; 61: 646-653). Thus fat is not dangerous per se but the distribution is relevant. The current study now reveals a perhaps important anthropometric measuring as relevant. Here the measurement of the upper thigh size below the gluteal fold showed to be completely independent from measures of the belly fat or general fat.
Skinny legs, sick heart
The basis is the analysis of data of the Danish MONICA (Multinational MONItoring of trends and determinants in CArdiovascular disease)-project. This study, initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO), served the detection of risk factors and their changes in 21 countries in the Eighties. There were various measures available like height, weight, circumferences of upper thigh, hip and waist as well as bioelectric impedance measurements of body composition of 2,800 men and women, average age 50 years. By means of national register, persons were identified getting cardiovascular diseases during the following ten years or died after 12.5 years.
People with skinny thighs, measured below the gluteal fold, showed an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and coronary heart diseases. The total death rate of affected men and women was increased as well. The project revealed a limit value of 60 cm. Below this limit, the risk for disease and death was more than double compared to people with stronger thighs. However, a higher thigh circumference was not connected to any additional advantage. The results were independent from other known risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia etc.
Strong muscles of legs and heart
The fact that the relationships discovered are not connected to body fat or the abdominal fat causes the researchers to assume that the low muscle mass in skinny legs has to be held responsible. They did not make any studies on the combination of tissues though. But this theory is in line with other results where a lower mass of body muscles is associated with the development of a type-II-diabetes and going along with an increased insulin resistance. It has little to do with over- or underweight at first, which is also known for patients for example suffering from chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Those show muscle atrophy especially in their lower extremities. The medium thigh circumference proved to be a better predicator for mortality than the BMI.
Perhaps the low circumference of the thigh is simply a sign for a lack of physical activities. Easy counteragent here would be training. Even though the results have to be confirmed in additional studies – as put in the according editorial – the circumference of the thigh might help physicians to identify risk patients.