Racial differences in subcutaneous and visceral fat distribution in postmenopausal black and white women

Metabolism. 2003 Feb;52(2):186-91. doi: 10.1053/meta.2003.50024.


Most studies examining racial disparities in abdominal fat distribution have focused on premenopausal women. The purpose of this report was to determine if racial differences exist in the abdominal fat distribution in postmenopausal white and black women. Fifty-four women (33 white and 21 black) were scanned by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine abdominal fat distribution, were measured by hydrostatic weighing for percent body fat, and had their fasting blood lipids, glucose, and insulin levels measured. These women were matched for age (mean age, 53.5 +/- 0.9 years) and percent body fat (black: 39.6% +/- 2.3%, white: 37.3% +/- 1.2%). When adjusted for total body fat mass and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), total abdominal fat (white: 10,352.1 +/- 535.2, black: 11,220.4 +/- 670.1 cm(3)) was not statistically different between groups, but the visceral fat content was significantly higher in the white women (white: 2,943.5 +/- 220.4, black: 2,332.6 +/- 176.1 cm(3)). The percent visceral fat was also higher in these women (white: 30.5% +/- 1.3%, black: 22.1% +/- 1.6%, P <.01). Subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) was significantly higher in the black women (white: 7,408.6 +/- 450.2, black: 8,887 +/- 563.1 cm(3), P <.05). No significant differences were found in the insulin concentrations or the blood lipid profile of these women. Regardless of race, visceral fat was a significant predictor of log triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), cholesterol/LDL-C, insulin levels, and insulin resistance. Race was only found to contribute to 8% of the variability of LDL-C. HRT use had no effect on abdominal fat distribution or the blood lipid profile in this cohort of women. In conclusion, disparities in abdominal fat distribution between black and white women continue to exist in the early postmenopausal years, and the regression results indicate that the absolute amount of visceral fat, and not the relative amounts of visceral fat, is the best predictor of the blood lipid profile and insulin sensitivity. HRT use did not result in differences in abdominal fat distribution in these women. Factors, such as genetics and lifestyle, must play a larger role in explaining the increased health risk in black women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen*
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Blacks*
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Subcutaneous Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Whites*


  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Insulin
  • Triglycerides