Thin on the outside, fat on the inside?

Thin on the outside, fat on the inside?

There's a new buzz word being used to describe a type of obesity -- TOFI. It stands for "thin on the outside, fat on the inside", and experts here believe many Asian people fall into this category.

While Caucasians store it on their arms, legs and stomach, researchers believe Asian people are susceptible to storing fat in a more dangerous way.

"Somebody who looks quite slim on the outside may have hidden fat," says Professor Sally Poppitt, principal investigator of the High-Value Nutrition Metabolic Health programme.

"We think that we'll find they've got a lot of fat in their organs, in the liver in the pancreas."

She says that can put them at high risk of type-2 diabetes.

Prof Poppitt has begun a new study to look into how Chinese people store their body fat differently from Caucasian people. Study participants will undergo a blood test and body scans to show how much fat they're carrying and, more essentially, where they're storing it.

Lousie Weiwei Lu from the Human Nutrition Unit at the University of Auckland says the adoption of a Western diet has caused a surge in obesity and health issues in China.

"I think this TOFI project is to also increase the awareness in the Chinese community, to be more aware of what they put on their plate."

The study's long-term goal is to find food solutions to the problem.

"The overall aim of the project is to think which kinds of foods could help to target things like the TOFI profile, some of the risk factors and help to improve health and type-2 diabetes," says Prof Poppitt.

But it's not just health benefits; the study will have benefits for New Zealand producers looking to export high-end health foods.

It's one of a number of studies in the High-Value Nutrition project, which is designed to transform New Zealand into a "Silicon Valley of foods for health".

It's hoped to boost exports by $1 billion a year by 2025.