Liposuction is a common surgical way to remove fat deposits, but a new study shows the results are only temporary


Liposuction has been around since the mid-’70s and is now the most common plastic surgery procedure in North America. If you have unwanted pockets of fat, liposuction will literally suck out the fat cells and presto — a smoother appearance that makes you look slimmer and helps your clothes fit better.

But a lingering question has always remained: Does the fat come back? And if so, where does it go?


Study Shows Fat is Redistributed to Upper Abdomen, Shoulders and Arms

New research says we now have the answers, but the news is not good. According to a study from the University of Colorado recently published in the journal Obesity, after a year, all the fat returns but is redistributed to other parts of the body: the upper abdomen, around the shoulders and back of the arms.


The research followed 32 healthy-weight women (average age of 36 and BMIs of 24) who had disproportionate fat deposits in their lower abdomen, hips and thighs. Participants agreed not to make any changes to their lifestyle while they were enrolled in the study.

They were then randomly assigned either to receive liposuction to their "problem" areas or to a control group with no surgery. Their baseline body fat, abdominal and limb circumferences were measured and then later repeated at six weeks, six months and one year.


Fat Regained in One Year

At six weeks, body fat in the liposuction group remained lower compared to the control group, but this difference became smaller at the six-month point. After one year, the difference was no longer significant between the study groups. All the body fat had returned in the women who had received liposuction. And while their thighs remained reduced in size, the fat had re-accumulated in different areas, primarily upwards in the body.


It’s a result that plastic surgeons have observed and many patients, who have undergone liposuction, experience. But why does it happen?

Keeping Body Fat is a Survival Mechanism

Obesity experts say the body maintains and carefully controls the number of fat cells we have to keep a basic level of body fat as part of our survival mechanism. It’s a dynamic process — as old fat cells die, new ones take their place.


An analogy might be if you think of taking away a storeroom, but your body still needs to store fat, it will accumulate elsewhere. So if the storerooms in the thighs or lower abdominal region have been removed, where would the fat go? Most likely to the upper body.


So, after liposuction, even if you’re healthy and slim, or if you gain weight, the fat will return, with the possibility that you may end up looking slightly disproportionate. That makes it more important than ever to commit to a healthful fitness routine and lifestyle to help mitigate these unwanted effects.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.