Obesity is currently the most important contributor to ill health and expenditure worldwide. More alarming is the fact that the pediatric population parallels adults, with obesity closely associated to type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D), cardiovascular disease, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, vitamin D deficiency (VDD) and certain types of cancer. The observation in the early 1950s that android or truncal adipose tissue (AT) distribution compared to gynoid had a greater association with metabolic dysfunction, in particular T2D and cardiovascular disease risk, led to the hypothesis that obesity-associated complications are not associated with fat mass per se, but the pattern of fat distribution. This concept was further supported by groups of individuals with metabolic dysfunction despite a lean phenotype, and healthy obese people protected from metabolic dysfunction. It is now well recognized that an increase in visceral AT is an independent risk factor for the development of obesity-associated comorbidities with AT depot distribution, their anatomic, cellular and molecular features defining their role. The differences and the plasticity of subcutaneous, visceral and ectopic ATs to store and release fatty acids and to synthesize and secrete adipokines, defines the metabolic outcomes. The present review will examine the phenotypic and pathophysiological differences between the different AT depots, with a particular focus on the abdominal depots and their link to metabolic complications.
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