Fat mass changes during menopause: a metaanalysis

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2019 Nov;221(5):393-409.e50. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2019.04.023. Epub 2019 Apr 26.


Objective: Data: Fat mass has been shown to increase in aging women; however, the extent to which menopausal status mediates these changes remains unclear. The purpose of this review was to determine (1) how fat mass differs in quantity and distribution between premenopausal and postmenopausal women, (2) whether and how age and/or menopausal status moderates any observed differences, and (3) which type of fat mass measure is best suited to the detection of differences in fat mass between groups.

Study: This review with metaanalyses is reported according to Metaanalysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology guidelines.

Study appraisal and synthesis methods: Studies (published up to May 2018) were identified via PubMed to provide fat mass measures in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. We included 201 cross-sectional studies in the metaanalysis, which provided a combined sample size of 1,049,919 individuals and consisted of 478,734 premenopausal women and 571,185 postmenopausal women. Eleven longitudinal studies were included in the metaanalyses, which provided a combined sample size of 2472 women who were premenopausal at baseline and postmenopausal at follow up.

Results: The main findings of this review were that fat mass significantly increased between premenopausal and postmenopausal women across most measures, which included body mass index (1.14 kg/m2; 95% confidence interval, 0.95-1.32 kg/m2), bodyweight (1 kg; 95% confidence interval, 0.44-1.57 kg), body fat percentage (2.88%; 95% confidence interval, 2.13-3.63%), waist circumference (4.63 cm; 95% confidence interval, 3.90-5.35 cm), hip circumference (2.01 cm; 95% confidence interval, 1.36-2.65 cm), waist-hip ratio (0.04; 95% confidence interval, 0.03-0.05), visceral fat (26.90 cm2; 95% confidence interval, 13.12-40.68), and trunk fat percentage (5.49%; 95% confidence interval, 3.91-7.06 cm2). The exception was total leg fat percentage, which significantly decreased (-3.19%; 95% confidence interval, -5.98 to -0.41%). No interactive effects were observed between menopausal status and age across all fat mass measures.

Conclusion: The change in fat mass quantity between premenopausal and postmenopausal women was attributable predominantly to increasing age; menopause had no significant additional influence. However, the decrease in total leg fat percentage and increase in measures of central fat are indicative of a possible change in fat mass distribution after menopause. These changes are likely to, at least in part, be due to hormonal shifts that occur during midlife when women have a higher androgen (ie, testosterone) to estradiol ratio after menopause, which has been linked to enhanced central adiposity deposition. Evidently, these findings suggest attention should be paid to the accumulation of central fat after menopause, whereas increases in total fat mass should be monitored consistently across the lifespan.

Keywords: BMI; DEXA; adiposity; body fat percentage; fat mass; female; menopause; postmenopausal; premenopausal; waist circumference.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat
  • Menopause*
  • Waist Circumference
  • Waist-Hip Ratio