On average, women store between five and ten percent more fat than men, even though men consume proportionately more calories. And, although women typically burn more calories than men during physical exercise, they don’t lose as much fat.
This is not a fluke of nature. The ability to store more fat makes sense for women during childbearing age. Obviously, additional fat storage is beneficial for women in times of fertility, fetal development and lactation.
It has long been assumed that hormones are, at least in part, responsible for fat distribution and fat storage in the human body, which would explain the differences between the sexes. However, a causal link has not yet been clearly identified. Only recently, scientists at the University of South Wales (UNSW) have published a study in Obesity Reviews, a journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, that may shed a bit more light on the subject.
The study focuses in particular on the role of estrogen in the distribution of fat in the female body. While men are prone to store visceral fat around the vital organs, also known as belly fat, woman typically accumulate subcutaneous fat around the hips and thighs – at least until they reach menopause. With post-menopausal hormonal changes, however, many women experience a “shift” in fat distribution toward the waist.
Some see their waist lines expand without significant changes to their total body weight, not only because of loss of muscle mass that comes with aging, but also because limb fat often decreases while abdominal fat accumulates.
Excessive accumulation of visceral fat in the body is believed to be more harmful than that of subcutaneous fat, potentially causing a number of obesity-related illnesses. The reason is that fat stored in the abdomen seems to have a greater tendency to become inflamed. By contrast, subcutaneous fat, which is located between the skin and the abdominal wall is less likely to have the same effects on the inner organs.
Contrary to widespread belief, fat cells are by no means inactive. Especially visceral fat cells are able to produce adverse substances in the body, which, in turn, can lead to further hormonal disruptions and imbalances.
This concerns both genders, but particularly women in their post-menopausal years who carry significant amounts of fat in the abdomen may be at higher risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, diabetes, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and metabolic syndrome.
Although some weight gain in the abdominal area may be an acceptable, if not inevitable part of the aging process, it should not be altogether dismissed as harmless. The good news is that belly fat can be kept in check by healthy eating habits and regular exercise. Hormone therapy for women for the single purpose of fighting belly fat, however, is not recommended. The potential risks simply outweigh the benefits for such an invasive treatment.
A few simple tests can tell whether you are within your healthy range of abdominal fat or beyond. For this, you can calculate your body mass index (BMI), or an even simpler and perhaps more indicative way is to measure your waist size with the help of a tape measure. As a rule, depending on frame size and body type, men’s waists sizes should not go over 40 inches and women should stay under 35 inches. For more details, you can continue reading about your healthy weight range.