Menopause does not result in weight gain among women, however, hormonal adjustments are linked to a difference in fat distribution, which increases belly fat, according to a recent study that has been released by the International Menopause Society in light of the upcoming World Menopause Day on October 18th.

The new trial, published in Climacteric, is a comprehensive, scientifically based report on weight gain when a woman reaches the menopause.

Many women are bothered by the thought of gaining weight, and during middle-age years they begin to gain around 0.5kg or 1lb every year. Weight gain is of concern not only because women do not like to look overweight; it is associated with a several chronic diseases and conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other medical conditions.

Approximately 1.5 billion adults are overweight worldwide – 300 million of them are obese females. Since 1980, obesity rates have increased two-fold, mostly in industrialized nations. Experts say the obesity epidemic is caused by lifestyle changes, physical inactivity, and eating habits. A higher percentage of females are obese than males; probably because women are more susceptible to hormonal imbalances.

Experts examined findings regarding weight gain during menopause and discovered that surprisingly, increase in weight is due to non-hormonal factors, rather than the actual menopause.

The researchers found that the way fat is deposited during the menopause changes significantly; this is the main reason for rising obesity rates among women in this age group. Regardless of whether women gain weight when they hit middle-age years, they do undergo a change in the way fat accumulates in their bellies.

Lead author of the study, professor Susan Davis from the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said:

“It is a myth that the menopause causes a woman to gain weight. It’s really just a consequence of environmental factors and aging which cause that. But there is no doubt that the new spare tire many women complain of after menopause is real, not not a consequence of any changes they have made. Rather, this is the body’s response to the fall in estrogen at menopause: a shift of fat storage from the hops to the waist.”

The report explains that when fat in the abdomen is increased, for post-menopausal women, the chances of developing a metabolic disease are increased as well, including the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Although it is believed that estrogen therapy (HRT) is a cause of weight gain for women, the researchers say that is not the case, and HRT can help women lose the unwanted belly fat that appears post-menopause.

The IMS is stressing the important of awareness of health problems linked to weight gain among women going through menopause, and are encouraging them to take the initiatives crucial to preventing weight gain. A 2009 study confirmed the benefits of hormone therapy and physical activity in reducing weight gain after menopause.

Davis said:

“What this translates to in real terms is that women going through the menopause should begin to try to control their weight before it becomes a problem, so if you have not been looking after yourself before the menopause, you should certainly start to do so when it arrives. This means, for all women, being thoughtful about what you eat and for many, being more active every day. Estrogen therapy (HRT) can also help. But each woman is different, so at the menopause, it is important to discuss your health with your doctor.”

President of IMS, Tobie de Villiers, concluded: “Weight gain is a major risk factor for a variety of diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascualr disease. Heart disease is by far the number one killer of postmenopausal women, and this risk is increased by excess weight. Women need to be aware of this, especially at the menopause when estrogen levels drop. A woman may need to adjust her lifestyle to ensure a healthier life after the menopause. In fact, I would say that a woman should consider using the menopause as a marker, a reason to review her overall health, with her doctor, so that she can take her own decisions on how her life moves forward.”

Written by Christine Kearney