Changes in body fat distribution in relation to parity in American women: a covert form of maternal depletion

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2006 Oct;131(2):295-302. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20394.


Using data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), conducted from 1988-1994, we investigated the effect of reproduction on the distribution of body fat in well-nourished American women. While women tend to gain weight and fat with succeeding pregnancies, if age and body mass index are controlled, increasing parity is associated with a decrease in hip and thigh circumferences, suprailiac and thigh skinfolds, and body fat estimated from skinfolds, while waist circumference increases, resulting in a relative decrease in lower-body fat. The mobilization of fat stores in the lower body during late pregnancy and lactation may help to meet the special needs of the developing brain for essential fatty acids and energy during the time of peak growth. When fat is regained after the postpartum period, relatively more is stored in central vs. peripheral depots, resulting in a patterned change in body shape with parity.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lactation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Parity*
  • Pregnancy
  • United States