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The Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health’s (ISEH), Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira has led a study with Professor Rachal Cooper (Manchester Metropolitan University & Newcastle University) investigating whether total adiposity (indicated by body mass index, (BMI), and body fat percentage (BF%)) and central adiposity (indicated by waist circumference (WC) and waist-hip-ratio (WHR)) are causally associated with muscle strength. 

They collaborated with scientists at ISEH, UCL and Manchester Metropolitan University including Drs. Tom Norris, Victoria Garfield and David Tomlinson respectively. 

The importance of maintaining muscle strength and preventing muscle weakness, particularly at older ages, is increasingly being recognised by both clinicians and policymakers and this research addresses two key public health challenges of our time: obesity and population ageing, both of which have important potential consequences for muscle weakness... Globally our population is aging and obesity is highly prevalent in all age groups. The researchers were therefore able to address a critical research gap regarding the influence of adiposity on muscle strength.

In the study, the authors explored associations between four key indicators of total and central adiposity with grip strength in a sample of over 400,000 men and women using several complementary approaches. Handgrip strength is a good indication of a person’s functional ability and is a good proxy for having the strength to undertake physical tasks of daily living. By combining evidence using different approaches, the researchers were able to strengthen the evidence base for causal links between total adiposity and grip strength in males and females and between central adiposity and grip strength in males. They found that for both sexes, higher BF% and (in males only) WHR was associated with weaker grip strength.

Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira said: In order to live independently for as long as possible, it is crucial that we are strong. In our study, we found that for males and females, higher BF% and, in males only, WHR was associated with weaker grip strength. The pathways linking these different adiposity markers to strength are likely to differ. For example, genes associated with BMI implicate pathways that act in the brain, whereas genes associated with fat distribution point to pathways involved in insulin resistance. Therefore, further study is needed to establish underlying mechanisms explaining our findings, before transitioning to clinical trials that can inform on the potential translation of these insights towards benefiting the general population.

Read the study published in BMC Medicine.

You may also be interested in Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira’s and Professor Rachal Cooper’s recently published research that investigated how BMI over a lifetime is associated with strength in mid-life. See here.