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Clinical Research

Neck adipose tissue accumulation is associated with higher overall and central adiposity, a higher cardiometabolic risk, and a pro-inflammatory profile in young adults



Neck adipose tissue (NAT) volume increases with general adiposity, with fat accumulating in different neck tissue compartments. In patients with certain malignant/benign tumours, the accumulation of NAT, and certain NAT distributions, have been associated with cardiometabolic risk (CMR). However, it is unknown whether the same relationships exist in healthy people, and whether NAT accumulation and distribution are related to the inflammatory status.


In this cross-sectional study, 139 young healthy adults (68% women) underwent a computed tomography scan to quantify the volume of compartmental (i.e., subcutaneous, intermuscular and perivertebral) and total NAT at the height of vertebra C5. Anthropometric indicators were measured, and body composition determined using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. Information on CMR factors (i.e., blood glycaemic and lipid markers, blood pressure and physical fitness) was also gathered, and a CMR score calculated. Several plasma cytokines and serum components of the innate immune system were measured to determine the inflammatory status.


Compartmental and total NAT volumes were directly related to body mass index (BMI), and lean, fat, and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) masses (all, P ≤ 0.05). Larger compartmental (especially intermuscular) and total NAT volumes were directly associated with the CMR score, several CMR factors (i.e., glycaemic and lipid markers and blood pressure), and the C3, C4 and leptin concentrations. They were, however, inversely correlated with the CMR factors high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) and physical fitness, and with the adiponectin concentration (all P ≤ 0.05). Several of these associations remained statistically significant (P ≤ 0.05) after adjustment for BMI, body fat percentage or VAT mass. Overall, results did not change after applying false discovery rate correction.


NAT volume and its distribution among different tissue compartments is associated with the CMR and inflammatory profile of young healthy adults. Total NAT volume appears to be as valuable as VAT mass in terms of predicting CMR and inflammatory status.

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Fig. 1: Neck adipose tissue (NAT) accumulation based on the subject’s nutritional status.
Fig. 2: Mean (and standard deviation) neck measurements with respect to BMI categories.
Fig. 3: Association between neck measurements and body composition in both sexes.


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This study was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness via the Fondo de Investigación Sanitaria del Instituto de Salud Carlos III (PI13/01393) and PTA 12264-I, Retos de la Sociedad (DEP2016-79512-R) and European Regional Development Funds(ERDF), the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU 13/03410), the Fundación Iberoamericana de Nutrición (FINUT), the Redes Temáticas de Investigación Cooperativa RETIC (Red SAMID RD16/0022), the AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation, the University of Granada Plan Propio de Investigación 2016 – Excellence actions: Unit of Excellence on Exercise and Health (UCEES) – and Plan Propio de Investigación 2018: Programa Contratos-Puente, the Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Conocimiento, Investigación y Universidades (ERDF, SOMM17/6107/UGR) - and the Fundación Carolina (C.2016-574961). This study is part of a PhD thesis conducted with the framework of the Biomedicine Doctoral Studies Programme of the University of Granada, Spain.

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MJAT, FAM, JMPG, BMT, JMLL, JRR designed the study; MJAT, FAM, YGR, JMPG, EMR, and BMT conducted the research; JMLL and JRR provided essential reagents and materials; MJAT, FAM, JMPG, and EMR analysed the data and performed the statistical analysis; MJAT and FAM wrote the manuscript; MJAT, FAM, YGR, JMPG, EMR, BMT, AMS, JAL, JMLL, and JRR reviewed the manuscript and provided scientific assistance; JRR had primary responsibility for the paper’s final content.

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Correspondence to Francisco M. Acosta.

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Arias-Tellez, M.J., Acosta, F.M., Garcia-Rivero, Y. et al. Neck adipose tissue accumulation is associated with higher overall and central adiposity, a higher cardiometabolic risk, and a pro-inflammatory profile in young adults. Int J Obes 45, 733–745 (2021).

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