Anatomical Patterning of Visceral Adipose Tissue: Race, Sex, and Age Variation

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Objective: We tested sex, race, and age differences in the patterning of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue.

Research Methods and Procedures: Contiguous 1-cm-thick magnetic resonance (MR) images of the abdomen were collected from 820 African-American and white adults. Repeated-measures ANOVA was used to examine the effects of image location, sex, race, and age (≥50 vs. <50 years) on adipose tissue areas. Maximum VAT area was identified for each subject from the raw data.

Results: Compared to women, men had greater total VAT volume (p < 0.0001), and their maximum VAT area occurred higher in the abdomen (p < 0.0001). Among white men, maximim VAT area most frequently occurred 5 to 10 cm above L4-L5, whereas in the other groups, maximim VAT area most frequently occurred 1 to 4 cm above L4-L5 (p < 0.0001). African-American men had greater total VAT volume than African-American women (p < 0.01), but this sex difference was only significant using single images cranial to L4-L5 + 2 cm. Age-related increases in VAT tended to be greatest 5 to 10 cm above L4-L5 in men and near L4-L5 in women.

Discussion: A single MR image 5 to 10 cm above L4-L5 may allow more accurate conclusions than the L4-L5 image regarding group differences in visceral adiposity.