Liposuction has been around since 1974, so by now you'd think someone would have figured out whether it works or not. However, doctors only completed this research recently, and the news isn't good: All the fat removed by liposuction comes back within a year — and in a strange new location!

The new study was conducted by University of Colorado researchers and published in the journal Obesity. The New York Times reports:

In the study, the researchers randomly assigned nonobese women to have liposuction on their protuberant thighs and lower abdomen or to refrain from having the procedure, serving as controls. As compensation, the women who were control subjects were told that when the study was over, after they learned the results, they could get liposuction if they still wanted it. For them, the price would also be reduced from the going rate.

The conclusion: As promised, fat didn't return to the thighs and lower abdomen. Instead, it was "redistributed upstairs" to the upper abdomen, shoulders and triceps within a year. The researchers said they weren't surprised by this result, and pointed to the body's tendency to "defend" its fat. The body is constantly replacing fat cells, but they relocate after liposuction because the procedure destroys the net-like structure under the skin where fat cells are located.

Scientists have actually performed liposuction on rats and found the same results, but it still took them decades to study the phenomenon in humans. The study required doctors to scan and measure fat precisely, which is difficult. Also, unlike studies involving patients taking a simple pill, every surgeon performs the procedure in a slightly different way.

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia University, described the finding as, "another chapter in the "‘You can't fool Mother Nature' story." But don't expect humans to give up their quest for a quick weight loss solution so easily. After the study, the women who had the procedure said they were still happy — they just wanted to get rid of fat on their hips and thighs, even if it came back elsewhere. They have good reason to rationalize their decision, but most of the women in the control group felt the same way. Even after they heard the results of the study, more than half still had liposuction.

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With Liposuction, The Belly Finds What The Thighs Lose [NYT]

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