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Subcutaneous fat loss is greater than visceral fat loss with diet and exercise, weight-loss promoting drugs and bariatric surgery: a critical review and meta-analysis


Aim of this review is to compare visceral and subcutaneous fat loss with all available strategies (diet and exercise, weight-loss promoting agents and bariatric surgery). Eighty-nine studies, all full papers, were analyzed to evaluate visceral and subcutaneous fat changes, measured through ultrasound, computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and expressed as thickness, weight, area and volume. Studies were included in a meta-analysis (random-effects model). Intervention effect (absolute and percent changes of visceral and subcutaneous fat) was expressed as standardized mean differences, with 95% confidence intervals. Publication bias was formally assessed. The result was that subcutaneous fat was greater than visceral fat when measured as area, volume and weight, not as thickness; decrease of subcutaneous fat was greater than visceral fat when measured as area, volume and weight, not as thickness; percent decrease of visceral fat was always greater than percent decrease of subcutaneous fat, with no differences between different strategies. No intervention preferentially targets visceral fat. Basal visceral fat depots are smaller than basal subcutaneous fat depots. Visceral fat loss is linked to subcutaneous fat loss. With all strategies, percent decrease of visceral fat prevails on subcutaneous fat loss.

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This study was supported by Università degli Studi di Milano, Ospedale San Paolo and Istituto Multimedica, Milan, Italy.

Author contributions

CM, VC and AEP researched data and wrote manuscript; AM performed statistical analysis and contributed to discussion; AEP, CM, VC and AM reviewed/edited manuscript.

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Correspondence to A E Pontiroli.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on International Journal of Obesity website

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Merlotti, C., Ceriani, V., Morabito, A. et al. Subcutaneous fat loss is greater than visceral fat loss with diet and exercise, weight-loss promoting drugs and bariatric surgery: a critical review and meta-analysis. Int J Obes 41, 672–682 (2017).

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