Objective: To study the relationship between behavioural factors, body adiposity and muscle mass.
Subjects and methods: A total of 1415 Italian individuals (705 men and 710 women) aged 40-74 years from a population-based survey carried out in the town of Bollate (Milan). Analysis of covariance was used to refine and improve the precision of the comparisons.
Results: Men: Smoking and sedentary behaviour were related to larger waist circumference (WC) and smaller hip circumference (HC). Increased WC was also associated with high-fat diet and moderate-to-heavy drinking (compared to light drinkers). Those more educated (completed high school) were leaner and ex-smokers had higher body mass index (BMI) than non-smokers. Women: BMI was inversely related with education, the more educated having also lower muscle mass. The light drinkers were leaner and moderate-to-heavy drinkers had less muscle mass than abstainers. Moderate-to-heavy drinkers had larger WC than light drinkers. A strong negative trend was found in the relationship between dietary fibre and WC. Overall adiposity (BMI) and, more weakly, HC and peripheral subcutaneous fat increased with more TV watching, whereas BMI lowered, together with WC and muscle mass (as measured by the mid-arm circumference), with more walking/cycling.
Conclusions: Modifiable habits such as smoking (men) and moderate-to-heavy alcohol drinking are associated with a pattern that is particularly deleterious to health: increased intra-abdominal fat and less muscle mass. Prevention strategies should be simultaneously aimed at promoting physical activities and reducing sedentary behaviours. A low-fat, fibre-rich diet seems to be closely related to a healthy distribution of body fat.