We aimed to assess whether distinct lifestyle strategies can differentially affect specific body adipose depots.


We performed an eighteen-month randomized controlled trial among 278 sedentary adults with abdominal obesity (75%) or dyslipidemia in an isolated workplace with a monitored provided lunch. Participants were randomized to iso-caloric low-fat (LF) or Mediterranean/low-carbohydrate (MED/LC) diet+28g walnuts/day with/without added moderate physical activity (PA;80% aerobic; supervised/free gym membership). Overall primary outcome was body fat re-distribution, and the main specific endpoint was visceral adipose tissue (VAT). We further followed the dynamics of different fat depots [deep/superficial subcutaneous (D/SSAT), liver, pericardial, muscle, pancreas and renal-sinus] by magnetic-resonance-imaging.


Of 278 participants (age=48y; 89%men, body-mass-index=30.8kg/m2), 86% completed the trial, with good adherence. The LF group preferentially decreased reported fat intake (-21.0% vs. -11.5% for the MED/LC; P<0.001), and the MED/LC group decreased reported carbohydrates intake (-39.5%vs. -21.3% for the LF;P<0.001). The PA+ groups significantly increased the metabolic-equivalents (METs)/week vs. the PA- groups (19.0 vs. 2.1;P=0.009). Whereas final moderate weight loss was indifferent, exercise attenuated the waist circumference rebound with the greatest effect in MED/LCPA+ group (P<0.05). VAT (-22%), intra-hepatic (-29%), and Intra-pericardial (-11%) fats declines were higher than pancreatic and femur intermuscular fats (1-2%) loss. Independent of weight loss, PA+ with either diet had a significantly greater effect on decreasing VAT [mean-of-difference=-6.67cm2;95%CI:(-14.8 to -0.45) compared with PA-]. The MED/LC diet was superior to LF in decreasing intra-hepatic, intra-pericardial and pancreatic fats (P<0.05 for all). In contrast, renal-sinus and femoral-intermuscular fats were not differentially altered by lifestyle interventions, but by weight loss per-se. In multivariate models, further adjusted for weight loss, losing VAT or intra-hepatic fat were independently associated with improved lipid profile, losing deep-SAT with improved insulin sensitivity and losing superficial-SAT remained neutral except of association with decreased leptin.


Moderate weight loss alone inadequately reflects the significant lifestyle effects on atherogenic and diabetogenic fat depots. The MED/LC diet mobilizes specific ectopic fat depots, and exercise has an independent contribution to VAT loss. Fat depots exhibit diverse responsiveness and are differentially related to cardiometabolic markers. Distinct lifestyle protocols may uniquely induce fat mobilization from specific anatomical sites.

Published: November 15, 2017

Study Type: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial

Topics: Mediterranean Diet

Weight Management