Research just published on reports that men and women whose thighs are less than 60cm in circumference have a higher risk of premature death and heart disease. The study also concluded that individuals whose thighs are wider than 60cm have no additional protective effect.

Professor Berit Heitmann is the lead author and based at Copenhagen University Hospital. He explains that his research may help GPs identify patients who are at an increased risk of early death and developing heart disease.

This is the first study to investigate the implications of thigh size on health. Several other studies have already confirmed that being either very overweight or underweight is related to premature death and disease.

Nearly 3,000 individuals took part in the study in Denmark of which 1,463 were men and 1,380 were women. Throughout 1987 and 1988 participants were examined for height, weight, thigh, hip and waist circumference and body composition. Then, they were monitored for ten years for incidence of heart disease. They were followed up for 12.5 years for the number of deaths.

During the monitoring period records showed that 257 men and 155 women died, 263 men and 140 women experienced cardiovascular disease and 103 men and 34 women suffered from heart disease. After studying the results, the researchers found that the survivors had higher fat-free thigh circumference levels.

After taking into account body fat and other high risk factors, such as smoking and high cholesterol, the authors established the relationship between thigh size and early death and disease. Accordingly, they indicate that the risk from narrow thighs could be linked with too little muscle mass in the region. They explain that this is problematic because it may lead to low insulin sensitivity and type 2 diabetes and, ultimately, heart disease.

The authors write in conclusion that the study “found that the risk of having small thighs was associated with development of cardiovascular morbidity and early mortality. This increased risk was found independent of abdominal and general obesity, lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and lipids related to early cardio vascular morbidity and mortality”.

The authors consider that doctors could apply thigh size as an early marker for at risk patients. In addition, they recommend that individuals increase lower body exercise in order to increase the size of their thighs if needed. However, supplementary research would be considered necessary to assess whether this approach is useful.

An associated editorial confirms the need for further research to examine the validity of this association.

“Thigh circumference and risk of heart disease and premature death: prospective cohort study”
Berit L Heitmann, professor, director of research, head of section, health promotion in hospitals, Peder Frederiksen, statistician
BMJ 2009; 339:b3292

“Thigh circumference and risk of heart disease and premature death”
Ian A Scott, director of internal medicine and clinical epidemiology

Written by Stephanie Brunner (B.A.)