Menopause-related changes in body fat distribution

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000 May;904:502-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb06506.x.


Menopause-related changes in body fat distribution may partially explain the greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease during the postmenopausal years. To date, however, the effect of the menopause transition on body fat distribution remains unclear. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies using waist circumference or the waist-to-hip ratio show no effect of menopause on body fat distribution. By contrast, studies using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry showed increased trunk fat in postmenopausal women. Moreover, studies using computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) show that postmenopausal women have greater amounts of intra-abdominal fat compared to premenopausal women. Collectively, these studies suggest that the menopause transition is associated with an accumulation of central fat and, in particular, intra-abdominal fat. Whether menopause-related differences in trunk or intra-abdominal fat are independent of age and/or adiposity, however, is unclear. Thus, we recently examined the effect of menopausal status on body composition and abdominal fat distribution in 53 middle-aged, premenopausal women (47 +/- 3 years) and 28 early postmenopausal women (51 +/- 4 years). Postmenopausal women had 36% more trunk fat (p < 0.01), 49% greater intra-abdominal fat area (p < 0.01), and 22% greater subcutaneous abdominal fat area (p < 0.05) than premenopausal women. The menopause-related difference in intra-abdominal fat persisted (p < 0.05) after statistical adjustment for age and fat mass, whereas no differences were noted in trunk or abdominal subcutaneous fat. A similar pattern of differences in trunk, subcutaneous, and intra-abdominal fat was observed in subsamples of pre- and postmenopausal women matched for age or fat mass. Our data and that of others suggest that early postmenopausal status is associated with a preferential increase in intra-abdominal fat that is independent of age and total adiposity. Thus, CT and MRI should be used when examining menopause-related changes in body fat distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Body Composition*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Menopause / physiology*
  • Postmenopause / physiology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed