Comparison of regional fat distribution and health risk factors in middle-aged white and African American women: The Healthy Transitions Study

Obes Res. 2001 Jan;9(1):10-6. doi: 10.1038/oby.2001.2.


Objective: Both ethnicity and menopause appear to influence intra-abdominal fat distribution. This study evaluated intra-abdominal fat distribution and obesity-related health risks in perimenopausal white and African American women.

Research methods and procedures: Baseline data from a longitudinal study of changes in body composition and energy balance during menopause are reported. Healthy women (55 African Americans and 103 whites) who were on no medication and had at least five menstrual cycles in the previous 6 months were recruited. Body composition was assessed by DXA, and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) were assessed by computed tomography scan. SAT was divided into deep and superficial layers demarcated by the fascia superficialis.

Results: African American women were slightly younger (46.7 +/- 0.2 vs. 47.7 +/- 0.2 years, p = 0.002) and fatter (42.4% +/- 1.0% vs. 39.4% +/- 0.8% body fat, p = 0.02) than white women. In unadjusted data, African Americans had significantly more total abdominal fat and total, deep, and superficial SAT than whites. After adjustment for percent body fat and age, only total and superficial SAT remained significantly higher in African Americans. VAT, although slightly less in African American women, did not differ significantly by race. In multiple regression analysis, VAT was the strongest predictor of serum lipids, glucose, and insulin in women of both races, although superficial SAT was significantly associated with fasting glucose in whites.

Conclusions: Middle-aged African American women have larger SAT depots, adjusted for total body fatness, but do not differ from white women with regard to VAT. The complexity of the relationship between abdominal fat and metabolic risk is increased by ethnic differences in such associations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / anatomy & histology
  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Female
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / ethnology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Lipids
  • Glucose