Race differences in obesity and its relationship to the sex hormone milieu

Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2014 Sep;19(3):151-61. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2014-0004.


A sexual dimorphism exists in which increased abdominal and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) - found in women and marked by low sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and high bioavailable testosterone (BT) - is related to the metabolic risk profile. In men, increased BT is related to decreased abdominal obesity and a decrease in the metabolic risk profile. In women, race differences have been found in androgenic sex steroids including SHBG and BT as well as central fat distribution, creating inherently greater metabolic risk for certain populations. Estrogen and estrogen receptor isoforms play a role in fat deposition and distribution and may influence the changes that occur during the menopausal transition. Androgenic sex steroids serve a mediating role, influencing VAT accumulation and its associated metabolic risk factors while VAT also serves a mediating role influencing the androgenic sex steroid-metabolic risk relationship in women. Furthermore, androgenic sex steroids and VAT may independently contribute to the variance in several metabolic variables associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and their antecedent conditions such as the metabolic syndrome. Race has been shown to modify the relationship between androgenic sex steroids and metabolic variables associated with risk for diabetes in Black and White women. Further research is warranted to examine the mechanisms involved in race differences. Total adiposity and central fat distribution in accordance with changes in the hormone and metabolic milieu influence breast cancer risk, which varies by race and menopausal status. These findings have broader implications for the study of health promotion/disease prevention in women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Animals
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Breast Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / ethnology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / ethnology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / ethnology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity, Abdominal / ethnology
  • Obesity, Abdominal / metabolism
  • Racial Groups*
  • Steroids / metabolism


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Steroids