Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Liposuction, Fat and Body Shape

Gina Kolata writes about a liposuction study in the New York Times. This study is interesting because it matched the experimental group having surgery with a control group of otherwise similar women:
In the study, the researchers randomly assigned nonobese women to have liposuction on their protuberant thighs and lower abdomen or to refrain from having the procedure, serving as controls. As compensation, the women who were control subjects were told that when the study was over, after they learned the results, they could get liposuction if they still wanted it. For them, the price would also be reduced from the going rate.
The result, published in the latest issue of Obesity, was that fat came back after it was suctioned out. It took a year, but it all returned. But it did not reappear in the women’s thighs. Instead, Dr. Eckel said, “it was redistributed upstairs,” mostly in the upper abdomen, but also around the shoulders and triceps of the arms.
I am not going to write about the study itself or its meaning but about something slightly different.

Kolata mentions that more than half of the control group in the study still wanted the surgery after learning that the fat comes back though in different parts of the body. Yglesias writes about this, noting:
The psychology of medical care remains a bit murky.
I think he means the fact that a procedure found ineffective (in removing fat and keeping that fat away) was still desired by more than half of the women in the control group.

But if you read Kolata's description of the study carefully you will notice that the women in the study were not obese. They were what used to be called pear-shaped, with fat perhaps mostly lodged in their thighs and lower abdomen.

If a woman with that body-type wanted liposuction before the study, why wouldn't she want it after the study? She may well have welcomed more upper-body fat, considering that it reduces the pear-shapedness, and the abstract of the study does state that the areas where fat was liposuctioned stayed smaller.

Not all the women in the control group wanted to go on with the surgery after they learned the results. But those who did may not have acted in mysterious ways. If their desire was for a less pear-shaped body, then the surgery succeeded in achieving that.

Cartoon by Artful Asp