Racial differences in body composition and cardiometabolic risk during the menopause transition: a prospective, observational cohort study

Published:October 11, 2019DOI:


      Obesity disproportionately affects more women than men. The loss of ovarian function during the menopause transition coincides with weight gain, increases in abdominal adiposity, and impaired metabolic health. Racial differences in obesity prevalence that results from the menopause transition are not well understood.


      The purpose of the study was to assess longitudinal changes in body composition and cardiometabolic risk among black and white women during the menopausal transition.

      Study Design

      In a secondary analysis of a prospective, observational cohort study (the Healthy Transitions study), 161 women ≥43 years old with a body mass index of 20–40 kg/m2 and who had not yet transitioned through menopause were enrolled at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Women were seen annually for body composition by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, for abdominal adipose tissue distribution by computed tomography, for sex steroid hormones, and for cardiometabolic risk factors that include fasting glucose, insulin, and lipids. Surrogate measures of insulin sensitivity were also calculated.


      Ninety-four women (25 black, 69 white) transitioned through menopause and were included within the analyses. At menopause onset, black women weighed more (77.8±3.0 vs 70.8±1.8 kg) and had a higher systolic (125±16 vs 118±14 mm Hg) and diastolic (80±8 vs 74±7 mm Hg) blood pressure compared with white women (all P≤.05). No other differences in body composition, sex steroid hormones, or cardiometabolic risk factors were observed at menopause onset. Before menopause, white women gained significant weight (3 kg), total body adiposity (6% percent body fat, 9% fat mass, 12% trunk fat mass) and abdominal adipose tissue (19% subcutaneous fat, 15% visceral fat, 19% total adipose tissue), which coincided with significant decreases in estradiol, sex hormone-binding globulin, and estrone sulfate and increases in follicle-stimulating hormone, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Conversely, black women had more abdominal adipose tissue before menopause, which was maintained across the menopause transition. Black women also had significant decreases in estrone sulfate and total testosterone and increases in follicle-stimulating hormone before menopause. In the postmenopausal years, abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue, total adipose tissue, follicle-stimulating hormone, total cholesterol, and low-density and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol increased only in white women.


      White women gained more abdominal adiposity during the menopause transition compared with black women, which, in part, may be due to differences in the pattern of sex steroid hormone changes between women of different racial backgrounds. The gains in abdominal adiposity in white women were observed in tandem with increased cardiometabolic risk factors. Future studies should consider comprehensive lifestyle approaches to target these increased gains in abdominal adiposity (ie, nutrition and physical activity coaching), while taking into account the potential interactions of race, body adiposity, sex steroid hormones, and their influence on cardiometabolic risk.

      Key words

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