The influence of sex hormones on obesity across the female life span

J Womens Health. 1998 Dec;7(10):1247-56. doi: 10.1089/jwh.1998.7.1247.


Women have a higher prevalence of obesity than men in most developed countries. Obesity affects many aspects of women's health by increasing risk for heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and infertility. One reason for the gender difference in obesity may be that fluctuations in reproductive hormone concentrations throughout women's lives uniquely predispose them to excess weight gain. Studies in experimental animals and women have shown that hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle affect calorie and macronutrient intake and alter 24-hour energy expenditure. Pregnancy is a significant factor in the development of obesity for many women. Various factors are associated with excess weight retention following pregnancy, including weight gain during pregnancy, ethnicity, dietary patterns, and interval between pregnancies. There is a need to tailor recommendations for energy intake during pregnancy to individual women, and recent evidence also suggests that the timing of weight gain during pregnancy is a critical factor. Menopause is also a high-risk time for weight gain in women. Although the average woman gains 2-5 pounds during menopausal transition, some women are at risk for greater weight gains. There is also a hormonally driven shift in body fat distribution from peripheral to abdominal at menopause, which may increase health risks in older women. Hormone therapies have varying impacts on body weight and fat distribution. In summary, hormonal fluctuations across the female life span may explain the increased risk for obesity in women. Awareness of these factors allows development of targets for prevention and early intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Diet
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Humans
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Puberty
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain / physiology*


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones