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Kathleen Gavin, PhD

Sex Differences in Body Fat Distribution

Kathleen Gavin

When considering one’s risk for cardiometabolic disease, the location of fat in the body is as important, if not more important, than the total amount of body fat. The factors that determine where fat is stored and what makes some fat depots more harmful to health than others are not completely understood. However, sex hormones are believed to play a role in determining body fat distribution. This is demonstrated by the sex differences observed in body fat distribution between premenopausal women (pear-shaped, fat storage in hips and thighs) and men (apple-shaped, fat storage in abdominal region), and further reinforced by the shift towards increased abdominal fat accumulation in postmenopausal women with the loss of estrogen.

Dr. Gavin’s research project funded by the CWHR will investigate if cells (progenitor cells from bone marrow) that were not previously believed to contribute to fat generation in humans are indeed capable of becoming fat cells and if this differs between younger and older women and men; thereby potentially playing a role in sex differences in body fat distribution. The next step in her research will be to determine if the loss of female sex hormones (e.g., estrogen) plays a role in the generation of new fat cells from this unexpected source. The results of this investigation may reveal potential mechanistic targets for future therapies to reduce the negative health outcomes associated with obesity related chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes) in aging women and men, and if these therapies may need to differ based on sex.