Body Shape: Pear versus Apple


Body shapes: there are a variety of them. From the hourglass, to banana, to apple and pear – each woman and man has a particular shape. The latter two body shapes describe a  majority of people, especially women. Health wise, both the apple and the pear give clues to the presence of or likelihood of developing several underlying health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and perhaps even cancer. Understanding where body fat is located, and stubbornly refuses to shift, is an indication of medical conditions that require medical attention.

Firstly, it’s essential to understand where body fat is located on the apple and pear shaped body.

Pear Shape

In the pear shape, fat is stored around the hips and thighs and is considered less of a health hazard than fat stored around the waist. The expression “everything I eat goes to my hips” best explains this shape. According to the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, thigh fat and a larger lower body are equipped for storing and releasing energy in the form of fatty acids; meaning that the body is able to enjoy a burst of energy after an intense workout.1

Apple Shape

In the apple shape, fat is stored around the waist, abdomen and chest. Apple shapes, up until recently, were the body shape that raised several red flags for serious illnesses such as, cardiovascular disease because waist fat is believed to release cytokines, a molecule increasing inflammation in the body.2 The abdomen is considered a powerhouse of hormones (cortisol produces extra fat during times of stress) and chemicals, which is why apple shapes raise concerned eyebrows in the medical field. There is evidence that a protein, 11BetaHSD1(a type of unhealthy body fat) tends to be present in apple shaped bodies

Measuring Your Shape

 To determine your shape, first measure around the narrowest part of the waist to determine waist circumference; then you will measure around the hips. Divide waist circumference by hip measurement to get waist-to-hip ratio. In the United States, a woman’s waist size greater than 35 inches and a man’s waist size greater than 40 inches indicate there are likely excess fat deposits in the body leading to a higher risk of developing obesity related diseases.3

Waist-to-hip ratio is a common measure of fat distribution because it helps track your weight loss. Exhaustive studies by the American Association of Diabetes indicate that waist circumference measurements produce better results because they correctly measure the curves and trunk fat, thus giving clues to what illnesses can arise.4 In fact, larger waist circumference, but smaller hip circumference, has been associated with high glucose levels and diabetes.

Both shapes are believed to carry signs of obesity but the new debate is which body type is the healthiest?

The Big Apple Debate

Plenty of worldwide focus has been placed over the years on the apple shapes owing to the increase of serious illnesses. For instance, Japan in 2008, launched a national campaign on keeping obesity rates down by requiring public and private employers provide employees regular health check-ups and to measure waistlines. The waist lines had to be less than 33 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women. The waist standard was established based on studies determining the ideal waist size for Japanese men and women in relation to obesity and weight related diseases in that country.  Employers with employees not meeting maximum waist sizes were actually penalized.

In 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the campaign Let’s Move in the United States to tackle child and adult obesity through regular exercise and healthy eating habits.

However, a recent study has challenged all the stacked up evidence: 58 studies involving 221,934 people showed BMI, waist fat and waist-to-hip ratio, did not really influence the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.5 In other words, the study suggested fat around the middle is not the only precursor of heart disease. The Lancet study surprisingly revealed that measuring BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio did not increase cardiovascular disease. Which leads to the question: what is actually contributing to the ubiquitous apple shape?

Interestingly, a study from 2005 by American Heart Association revealed high triglycerides in postmenopausal woman, which is a predictor of heart related illnesses.6 Triglycerides are a form of fat carried in the blood from the food we eat, especially butter, margarine, oils, alcohol and sugar. Fat cells are distributed throughout the body. The American Heart Association Nutrition Committee experimented over a period of 2 weeks with 48 adults aged between 18-40 who were told to consume meals, including carbohydrates with 3 servings of glucose, fructose and sweetened beverages. Study results revealed an increased level of triglycerides even in these people younger than 40 years old.7  Fat in the body, food and disease are clearly linked.

The Pear Shape Health Risks

In 2010 pear shapes were put on the proverbial medical spot by the Northwestern Medicine Department at Northwestern University when researchers examined 8,745 post menopausal women: after having a memory test to judge brain memory, researchers concluded pear shaped women scored poorly when it came to remembering things. Contradictory as it sounds scientists indicated that a little bit of excess waist fat was healthy because it produces estrogens – the female hormone that is essential for brain function and memory.8

As the external calculations of body fat are focused on, governments all over the world are increasingly educating the public on how to assess their body types with simple measurements. Women, and men need to take out their tape measures to define their body shape so they can get a quick determination of their body fat and possible disease risk. Though studies appear to be contradictory at times, maintaining a waist size of less than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is recommended. We can’t change the basic body shape we’re born with, but we can manage our waist size fully attributed to fat accumulation by managing our total body fat content. A well-rounded program of exercise coupled with excellent nutrition will help you with overall fat loss. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of illness and diseases. This is one fact that all studies agree on.


1 Being pear shaped not apple shaped protects against heart disease http:// January 2010 www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2010/100112.html

2 Being pear shaped not apple shaped protects against heart disease January 2010 www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2010/100112.html


3 Assessing Your Weight. 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html

4 American Diabetes Association, Trunk fat and leg fat have independent and opposite associations with fasting and post load glucose levels February 2004


5  The Lancet, Separate and combined associations of body-mass index and abdominal adiposity with cardiovascular disease: collaborative analysis of 58 prospective studies, March 2011

6 Circulation:American Heart Association Enlarged waist combined with elevated triglycerides is a strong predictor of accelerated ortherogenesis and related cardiovascular mortality in post menopausal women February 2005  circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/15/1883.abstract?sid=7e08887f-28e1-4e65-8c38-7a8e3b86ae99

7 Consumption of fructose and high fructose corn syrup increase postprandial triglycerides, LDL, cholesterol and apolipoprotein-b in young men and women August 2011 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21849529

8 Excess weight on hips linked to memory, July 2010 www.webmd.com/diet/news/20100714/excess-weight-on-hips-linked-to-memory-problems



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