It has been said that individuals who are "apple shaped" are more at risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes than people who are "pear shaped". Apple-shaped individuals have more fat around the abdomen, while pear-shaped individuals have more fat in the buttocks, hips and thighs. However, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has found that the protective benefits of a pear shape have been overstated. In fact, the researchers say in a statement that they are more myth than reality.

"Fat in the abdomen has long been considered the most detrimental to health, and gluteal fat was thought to protect against diabetes, heart disease and metabolic syndrome," lead author Ishwarlal Jialal, a professor at the University of California - Davis, said in a statement. "But our research helps to dispel the myth that gluteal fat is 'innocent.' It also suggests that abnormal protein levels may be an early indicator to identify those at risk for developing metabolic syndrome."

Metabolic syndrome is composed of a number of risk factors, like a large waistline; low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol; insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the syndrome is present in 35 percent of American adults over the age of 20. Combined together, the risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome increase the risk of diabetes five-fold and double the risk of heart disease.

The team conducted a study with 75 patients in total; 45 had early metabolic syndrome, defined as having at least three risk factors for early metabolic syndrome like obesity and hypertension, while the control group, matched for gender and age, had less than two risk factors for the syndrome. The researchers measured a number of items, like blood counts, lipid profiles and four proteins, chemerin, resistin, visfatin and omentin-1. Higher levels of chimerin are correlated with high blood pressure, insulin resistance and low levels of HDL cholesterol - and have been linked to four of the five factors for metabolic syndrome. Low omentin-1 levels are associated with problems like high blood glucose levels.

In individuals with metabolic syndrome, gluteal fat produced higher levels of chimerin and low levels of omentin-1.

The good news is that, with exercise, individuals can reduce both fat and their risk for metabolic syndrome.