Among the indignities of aging is a creeping tendency to put on weight, as our resting metabolism slows down—by roughly 1 to 2 percent every decade. But what's worse, at least for women, is a shift, around menopause, in where this excess flab accumulates. Instead of thickening the hips and thighs, it starts to add rolls around the belly—a pattern more typical of men—which notoriously reshapes older women from pears into apples.
The change is not just cosmetic. A high waist-to-hip ratio portends a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even certain cancers—for both men and women. The shift helps to explain why, after menopause, women begin to catch up to men in their rates of cardiovascular disease. And those potbellies are costly. A 2008 Danish study
found that for every inch added to a healthy waistline, annual health care costs rose by about 3 percent for women and 5 percent for men.