All About Adipose: How to Reduce Fat & Your Child’s Likelihood of Obesity

There’s so much talk about fat but still such little understanding about these very same cells that can wreak havoc on our health. This post was written as a humble attempt to understand one of the most talked about cells out there, adipose (fat) cells, and shed some light onto the many myths and misunderstandings that surround them.

Do fat cells differ between lean and overweight people?

Yes, and a significant study in 2008 showed evidence that there are two contributing factors that make up what we consider to be fat mass (adipose tissue):

  1. The number of fat cells an individual has

  2. The volume or size of each fat cell. It’s important to keep in mind that adipose (fat) cells differ from each other in type, location and behavior.

The quantity of fat cells we have and how “full” each cell is determines how heavy or thin we are. Often compared to little grocery bags, each adult has a set number of bags. These bags may be full to the brim or just slightly full, expressing the weight we carry.

Overweight people compared to leaner individuals have both a greater number of cells, as well as, fuller larger cells. Once the number of bags are set, gaining or losing weight is a matter of changing the volume within each bag, not how many bags you have.

{Interestingly, the only way to reduce the number of fat cells is through liposuction by which the cells are literally extracted from the body. If and when the individual gains weight again, the newly formed fat droplets will migrate and find shelter in other fat cells located in other areas (since the cells where they would normally go to have been removed). For example, liposuction in the thigh area will decrease the size of the person’s thighs but months after surgery, fat will start showing up in new parts of the body such as the back of the arms and/or stomach where they normally wouldn’t go to prior to surgery. This is irrelevant as far as children are concerned but it does give us a better insight on how adipose cells work.}

How does having a higher number of fat cells affect a person?

It’s been shown that individuals who have a higher cell number struggle more with weight-loss than individuals with a lower number.

This also highlights how important it is to take the time to understand the complexity of nutrition rather than to simplify and overlook significant details. Blaming overweight or obese individuals for lack of self-control and discipline when chemically speaking it’s more difficult to do so, robs us of understanding, and as a result, efficiently treating obesity. That’s not to say discipline and emotional eating don’t play a role in obesity, but that there’s a lot more to ‘deciding’ to be heavy.

When are adipose cells formed?

Historically, experts believed that the number of adipose cells were formed within the first year or two, however, recent studies indicate adipose cells are formed throughout childhood and adolescence. While these findings are important, the research is still far from being complete. What is certain is that instilling healthy habits at an early age can make a huge impact on achieving good health in the child’s future.

Photo Courtesy: http://realitytvmagazine.sheknows.com

Photo courtesy: http://realitytvmagazine.sheknows.com

Do overweight children become heavy or obese adults?

There is a 70 to 80% chance an obese child or adolescent will suffer from obesity as an adult. As we age, the accumulation of unhealthy lifestyle choices and other factors such as hormonal changes and less activity increases our adipose tissue consistently and cumulatively.

The earlier added accumulation and extra formation of fat cells  will make it that much harder for the child to be a healthy weight as an adult. Sometimes it’s easy to dismiss childhood chubbiness as a phase they will inevitably grow out of. We might have to move away from this mindset to one that is more proactive considering these recent findings.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The fact is that there is a lot we can do. Not to mention that succeeding in health is actually fun and involves eating delicious, colorful foods. Understanding the slightly boring details is the worst part, I promise!! With that said, Part 2 will cover the fun stuff and how to make unhealthy weight a thing of the past :)

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References

Cold War Bomb Testing is Solving Biology’s Biggest Mysteries
A PBS article written by Carrie Arnold, Published: Dec 11, 2013

Dynamics of Fat Cell Turnover in Humans
Kirsty L. Spalding, Erik Arner, Pål O. Westermark, Samuel Bernard, Bruce A. Buchholz, Olaf Bergmann, Lennart Blomqvist, Johan Hoffstedt, Erik Näslund, Tom Britton, Hernan Concha, Moustapha Hassan, Mikael Rydén, Jonas Frisén & Peter Arner
Nature.  June 5, 2008.

Fats and Cholesterol in the Diet
Sherry Henley, Instructional Specialist, Scottie Misner, Associate Nutrition Specialist
The University of Arizona. August 1999.

Fat cell number is set in childhood and stays constant in adulthood
Ed Yong, popular science writer
ScienceBlogs. May 4, 2008

Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood.
Guo SS, Chumlea WC.
Am J Clin Nutr. 199 Jul;70(1): 145S-8S. via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.