05/10/2010 11:30 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Why You're Healthier If You're Pear-Shaped

Many health experts believe women who store fat on their thighs and bottom are less likely to suffer serious diseases than those who are flabby around the middle. And now US experts reckon they can explain why.

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Researchers from Minnesota have examined how fat cells change during weight gain. The common belief in scientific circles is that adults largely don't produce new fat cells, but that when we put on weight our existing fat cells get fatter. This new research, however, discovered things aren't quite so simple.

By studying volunteers who were encouraged to gain weight, the researchers looked at the differences between those who naturally gained weight on their hips, bottoms and thighs, and those who piled on the pounds around their middles.

When the apple-shaped volunteers gained weight it mostly came from existing fat cells getting fatter. But weight gain in the pear-shaped volunteers came via the creation of new fat cells - surprisingly, for each 3.5lb gained on the thighs, there were around 2.6 billion new fat cells, the researchers claim.

So why is it better for your health if your body creates new fat cells as opposed to making existing fat cells expand? One theory, say the researchers, is when a fat cell becomes too big, it can no longer store and release fat normally. And that might mean any new fat could be diverted into other cells, where it could be harmful.

The question is, does that make you feel any happier if you're bottom-heavy?