The association between abdominal obesity and atherosclerosis is believed to be due to excess visceral adipose tissue (VAT), which is associated with traditional risk factors. We hypothesized that VAT is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis.
Healthy men and women (N=794) matched for ethnicity (aboriginal, Chinese, European, and South Asian) and body mass index range ( or =30 kg/m(2)) were assessed for VAT (by computed tomography scan), carotid atherosclerosis (by ultrasound), total body fat, cardiovascular risk factors, lifestyle, and demographics.
VAT was associated with carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), plaque area, and total area (IMT area and plaque area combined) after adjusting for demographics, family history, smoking, and percent body fat in men and women. In men, VAT was associated with IMT and total area after adjusting for insulin, glucose, homocysteine, blood pressure, and lipids. This association remained significant with IMT after further adjustment for either waist circumference or the waist-to-hip ratio. In women, VAT was no longer associated with IMT or total area after adjusting for risk factors.
VAT is the primary region of adiposity associated with atherosclerosis and likely represents an additional risk factor for carotid atherosclerosis in men. Most but not all of this risk can be reflected clinically by either the waist circumference or waist-hip ratio measures.