Liposuction is one of the most popular medical procedures in the world, despite a hefty price tag. It’s performed in China, India, the Middle East, the Americas and Europe, and a medical tourism industry servicing the procedure has become a multibillion dollar industry. Those who offer the treatment present the results as transformative, with extra weigh melting effortlessly away. But as the New York Times reports, a new study reveals that fat often returns to the body — in strange places.

Dr. Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado conducted the study with Dr. Teri L. Hernandez. The result, published in the latest issue of Obesity, was that fat came back after it was suctioned out," writes Gina Kolata for the New York Times. It took a year, but it all returned. But it did not reappear in the women’s thighs. The fat that has been removed on the lower abdomen of test subjects almost always reappeared a year later in the upper abdomen.

As Eckel notes, the fat was redistributed mostly in the upper abdomen but also around the shoulders and triceps of the arms. The study included nonobese women who had the procedure done on their lower abdomen and thighs, and a control group of women who did not have the procedure. (The control group members were told they could have the procedure done at a reduced priced if they still wanted it after the results were presented.)

Why did the fat redistribute so oddly? As the NY Time reports, the body defends fat rigorously. Dr. Rudolph Leibel is an obesity researcher at Columbia University. As he told the NY Times, “the body controls the number of its fat cells as carefully as it controls the amount of its fat. Fat cells die and new ones are born throughout life. Scientists have found that fat cells live for only about seven years and that every time a fat cell dies, another is formed to take its place.” It is thought that the fact returns in new areas because of the tissue that has been destroyed during the liposuction process in the old areas. As Leibel points out, you can’t fool mother nature.

So will surgeons discourage the practice? For such a lucrative business, that's unlikely. The estimated cost of liposuction is significant, according to A lower abdominal procedure, including liposuction of the hips, outer thighs and buttocks, might include surgical fees of $2,400 for hips, $3,000 for outer thighs, and $1,800 for buttocks, plus a non-surgical fee of $1,600. That adds up to $8,800 for a complete liposuction procedure. 

So what happened to the women who were in the control group of the original study? According to the New York Times, despite knowing the results, many still chose to have liposuction.

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