Fat accumulation in the tongue is associated with male gender, abnormal upper airway patency and whole-body adiposity

Metabolism. 2016 Nov;65(11):1657-1663. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2016.08.008. Epub 2016 Sep 2.


Objective: To examine associations between tongue adiposity with upper airway measures, whole-body adiposity and gender. We hypothesized that increased tongue adiposity is higher in males and positively associated with abnormal upper airway measures and whole-body adiposity.

Methods: We studied subjects who underwent whole-body positron emission tomography/computed tomography to obtain tongue attenuation (TA) values and cross-sectional area, pharyngeal length (PL) and mandibular plane to hyoid distance (MPH), as well as abdominal circumference, abdominal subcutaneous and visceral (VAT) adipose tissue areas, neck circumference (NC) and neck adipose tissue area. Metabolic syndrome was determined from available clinical and laboratory data.

Results: We identified 206 patients (104 females, 102 males) with mean age 56±17years and mean body mass index (BMI) 28±6kg/m2 (range 16-47kg/m2). Males had lower TA values (P=0.0002) and higher upper airway measures (P<0.0001) independent of age and BMI (P<0.001). In all subjects, TA was negatively associated with upper airway measures (P<0.001). TA was negatively associated with body composition parameters (all P<0.0001), most notably with VAT (r=-0.53) and NC (r=-0.47). TA values were lower in subjects with metabolic syndrome (P<0.0001).

Conclusion: Increased tongue adiposity is influenced by gender and is associated with abnormal upper airway patency and body composition parameters.

Keywords: Body composition; Metabolic syndrome; Obesity; Tongue fat.

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anatomy, Cross-Sectional
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Fats / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck / anatomy & histology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Respiratory System / diagnostic imaging
  • Respiratory System / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Tongue / diagnostic imaging
  • Tongue / metabolism*
  • Waist Circumference


  • Fats