The beneficial effects of body fat and adipose tissue in humans

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997 Sep;21(9):738-46. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0800473.


Body fat and adipose tissue are considered to have beneficial effects when they promote or protect the present and future function. These effects do not occur at absolute amounts or percentages of the body weight but rather they are context specific. Body fat stores are the major energy stores of the body and are important determinants of survival in starvation or undernutrition. Reproduction features highly as a biological function. Humans are alone in having major sex-specific fat stores and patterns of fat distribution and these have been linked with the onset and maintenance of menstruation, with mate selection and sexual signalling, and with favourable pregnancy and lactation outcomes. To survive and reproduce good physical and psychological health are advantageous attributes. Work metabolism, bone health and, possibly immune function and energy balance itself, are related in functionally beneficial ways to fat content and distribution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue* / physiology
  • Body Composition* / physiology
  • Bone and Bones / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy / physiology
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Survival / physiology