Why do women accumulate abdominal fat in middle age?

In the years leading up to menopause, Vieira-Potter said, levels of hormones like estrogen change. And research suggests that these changes can lead to body shape modifications, along with hot flashes, mood swings, irregular periods, trouble sleeping, and more. This perimenopausal transition, which usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasts about seven years, officially ends one year after the last menstrual period. At that time, the woman is said to be in menopause.

Before the menopausal transition, women tend to store more body fat in the thighs and hips, resulting in a “pear-shaped” body, Vieira-Potter explained, while men tend to store more fat in the abdominal area, which gives them more “apple shape”.

However, around menopause there is a surprising change in the area of ​​the body where women store fat, said Gail Greendale, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a 2021 study, for example, Greendale and her colleagues followed the evolution of the bodies of 380 middle-aged women from Boston and Los Angeles for 12 years, including the time before, during and after their transition to menopause. Although the results varied based on race and ethnicity, the overall result was that around menopause, women began to store fat more similarly to men, that is, less around the thighs and hips. and more around the midsection.

For example, among the black and white women in the study, there was no net change in fat in the hips and thighs over the 12 years, but the fat in the midsection increased, on average, by 24 and a 17 percent, respectively. The increase in fat in the midsection was faster during the years before and in the year after the last menstruation.

In other words, Vieira-Potter said, women “start to adopt that apple shape instead of the pear shape.”

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