Men tend to carry it on their stomachs, while women usually carry excess fat in their hips and thighs.
But after menopause, things start to change: many women's fat storage patterns start to resemble those of men.
This indicates that there is a link between estrogen and body fat storage.
By examining the fat storage process at a cellular level, Sylvia Santosa, assistant professor in Concordia University's Department of Exercise Science and Canada Research Chair in Clinical Nutrition, and co-author Michael D. Jensen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, revealed that certain proteins and enzymes are more active in post-menopausal women. These proteins correspond with fat storage.
Santosa said that the fat stored on hips and thighs is relatively harmless. But the fat stored around the abdomen is more dangerous, as it has previously been associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers.
She said when post-menopausal women put on more abdominal fat, they dramatically increase their risk for these health problems.
Santosa's research compared fat storage in pre- and post-menopausal women. The 23 women who participated in the study were in the same age range, and had similar Body Mass Indices (BMI) and body fat composition.
She and Jensen were able to examine the activity of certain enzymes and proteins that regulate fat storage in post-menopausal women's abdomens and thighs.
By considering these factors together rather than in isolation, the researchers determined conclusively that the overall fat storage "machinery" is more active in post-menopausal women. In other words, these cells now store more fat than they did before menopause.
In addition, post-menopausal women burned less fat than their pre-menopausal colleagues. These changes mean that their cells are not only storing more fat, but are also less willing to part with it.
The study has been published in Diabetes.