The junk in your trunk may be healthier than your spare tire.

It turns out that fat stored in the butt, hips and thighs can be beneficial, especially as compared with stomach fat, according to researchers from Oxford University.

Writing in the International Journal of Obesity, the team showed that waist fat releases molecules linked to heart disease and diabetes, while people with “pear shaped” bodies trap their fatty acids, which prevents harmful molecules from circulating in the blood.

“The idea that body fat distribution is important to health has been known for some time,” Dr. Konstantinos Manolopoulos, one of the paper’s authors, said in a statement released by Oxford. “However, it is only very recently that thigh fat and a larger hip circumference have been shown to promote health, that lower body fat is protective by itself.”

This is good news for women, who tend to store their fat below the waist, as opposed to men, whose bellies bear the brunt of their weight gain.

“If you looked at a man and woman of the same weight and aged around 40, they would have different weight distributions, and it would be the man that was at higher risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Manolopoulos said.

Still, the authors stress, because fat will accumulate in both places, keeping one’s weight down generally is still the healthiest option.

Dr. Louis Aronne, director of comprehensive weight control program at New York-Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center, agreed with the findings that the different areas can carry different types of fat.

"Now we know that some fat is very risky, and other fat is not risky, and it may be that what Manolopoulos is saying is that this fat is protective. … It may be not unhealthy for you,” said Aronne, a past president of the Obesity Society.

Emily Ngo contributed to this story.

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