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We use fat for a variety of activities

There are two main categories of fat in our bodies. The first is storage fat, which can be respired to release energy. The other is essential fat, which is found in our nerve cells, membranes and elsewhere, and is needed for the correct functioning of our bodies.

Men must maintain essential fat amounting to at least 3 per cent of their body mass and women around 12 per cent. It is thought that in women, this fat is important for fertility and childbearing.

But fats and lipids are also components in all sorts of things, like furniture polish, soap and the oils used in creating our greatest works of art. Artists who work in oils commonly use linseed, safflower, poppyseed and walnut oil. The chemical structures of the different oils determines how well they dry on canvas – olive oil, for instance, would never dry.

Oils are also ingredients in cosmetics, and you may have noticed almond oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter in the ingredients lists of hair and skin products. On a more grisly note, reports from Peru suggest that gangs may be profiting from selling human fat for use in cosmetic procedures, such as fat transfers to enhance breasts and buttocks.

Lead image:

brillianthues/Flickr CC BY

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About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Fat’ in December 2015.

Statistics and maths, Medicine
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development