Background: Visceral adipose tissue (VAT) compartments may confer increased metabolic risk. The incremental utility of measuring both visceral and subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (SAT) in association with metabolic risk factors and underlying heritability has not been well described in a population-based setting.
Methods and results: Participants (n=3001) were drawn from the Framingham Heart Study (48% women; mean age, 50 years), were free of clinical cardiovascular disease, and underwent multidetector computed tomography assessment of SAT and VAT volumes between 2002 and 2005. Metabolic risk factors were examined in relation to increments of SAT and VAT after multivariable adjustment. Heritability was calculated using variance-components analysis. Among both women and men, SAT and VAT were significantly associated with blood pressure, fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and with increased odds of hypertension, impaired fasting glucose, diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome (P range < 0.01). In women, relations between VAT and risk factors were consistently stronger than in men. However, VAT was more strongly correlated with most metabolic risk factors than was SAT. For example, among women and men, both SAT and VAT were associated with increased odds of metabolic syndrome. In women, the odds ratio (OR) of metabolic syndrome per 1-standard deviation increase in VAT (OR, 4.7) was stronger than that for SAT (OR, 3.0; P for difference between SAT and VAT < 0.0001); similar differences were noted for men (OR for VAT, 4.2; OR for SAT, 2.5). Furthermore, VAT but not SAT contributed significantly to risk factor variation after adjustment for body mass index and waist circumference (P < or = 0.01). Among overweight and obese individuals, the prevalence of hypertension, impaired fasting glucose, and metabolic syndrome increased linearly and significantly across increasing VAT quartiles. Heritability values for SAT and VAT were 57% and 36%, respectively.
Conclusions: Although both SAT and VAT are correlated with metabolic risk factors, VAT remains more strongly associated with an adverse metabolic risk profile even after accounting for standard anthropometric indexes. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesized role of visceral fat as a unique, pathogenic fat depot. Measurement of VAT may provide a more complete understanding of metabolic risk associated with variation in fat distribution.