Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Gender Differences in Body Fat Utilization During Weight Gain, Loss, or Maintenance

Authors
item Harris, Gabriel
item Baer, David

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: November 3, 2006
Publication Date: March 15, 2007
Citation: Harris, G.K., Baer, D.J. 2007. Gender Differences in Body Fat Utilization During Weight Gain, Loss, or Maintenance. In: Preuss, H. G. , Bagchi, D., editors. Phytopharmaceuticals for Obesity Treatment. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. p. 239-244.

Interpretive Summary: This chapter describes how men and women are different when it comes to gaining, losing or maintaining body fat. Men and women store fat in different places and use it in different ways as an energy source. Men tend to store fat in the stomach area, while women tend to store it in the thigh area. Men burn more calories than women, even when they are resting. During exercise, women burn more fat than men, but men burn more fat than women at rest. Eating too many calories can cause anyone to become fatter, but the type of food eaten may be especially important for women. The more fat women eat, the more likely they are to have too much body fat. On the other hand, the more carbohydrates women eat, the less likely they are to have too much body fat. Exercise by itself seems to be a good way of maintaining or losing body fat in men, but not in women. In fact, women who burn more total calories (calories burned at rest + calories burned during exercise) also have higher body fat levels. Some scientists believe that women eat more when they exercise, while men do not. This has not been proven, however. Overall, the data suggest that women gain and retain body fat more readily than men, independent of physical activity level. This chapter will be of interest to scientists and health professionals interested in weight control and weight loss.

Technical Abstract: This chapter outlines the known gender differences in fat gain, loss, and maintenance, and perhaps more importantly, highlights how little is known about the subject. The effects of gender differences on body fat distribution, fat use as an energy source, and exercise-related fat loss are discussed. Gender differences in fat distribution result from region-specific differences in fat accumulation and mobilization. Due to these differences, men tend to retain visceral and upper body fat, while women tend to store subcutaneous lower body fat. Due to a higher percentage of fat free mass, men have higher metabolic rates than women. Women burn more fat than men during exercise, but burn less at rest or in a fasted state. Although total calories consumed is important to body fat changes in both genders, macronutrient ratios may also be important in women. For women, dietary fat is positively associated with percent body fat, while dietary carbohydrate is negatively associated with body fat. Exercise alone seems to be an effective way of maintaining or reducing body fat in men, but not in women. In fact, total energy expenditure is positively associated with body fat percentage in women. Some scientists have suggested that women tend to compensate for exercise by consuming more calories, but this has not been proven. Overall, the data suggests that women gain and retain body fat more readily than men, independent of physical activity level.

Last Modified: 10/25/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page