Background: Visceral fat (VF) accretion is a hallmark of aging in humans. Epidemiologic studies have implicated abdominal obesity as a major risk factor for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and death.
Methods: Studies utilizing novel rodent models of visceral obesity and surgical strategies in humans have been undertaken to determine if subcutaneous (SC) abdominal or VF are causally linked to age-related diseases.
Results: Specific depletion or expansion of the VF depot using genetic or surgical tools in rodents has been shown to have direct effects on disease risk. In contrast, surgically removing large quantities of SC fat does not consistently improve metabolic parameters in humans or rodents, while benefits were observed with SC fat expansion in mice, suggesting that SC fat accrual is not an important contributor to metabolic decline. There is also compelling evidence in humans that abdominal obesity is a stronger risk factor for mortality risk than general obesity. Likewise, we have shown that surgical removal of VF improves mean and maximum lifespan in rats, providing the first causal evidence that VF depletion may be an important underlying cause of improved lifespan with caloric restriction.
General significance: This review provides both corollary and causal evidence for the importance of accounting for body fat distribution, and specifically VF, when assessing disease and mortality risk. Given the hazards of VF accumulation on health, treatment strategies aimed at selectively depleting VF should be considered as a viable tool to effectively reduce disease risk in humans.