Mr Ambikairajah conducted a meta-analysis of over 200 studies, finding the evidence overwhelmingly suggested menopause was instead associated with a redistribution of weight in the body, with post-menopausal women having a more belly fat compared to premenopausal women.
The leading cause of death in women is cardiovascular disease, and a possible linking factor to cardiovascular disease is central fat.
He said the results were concerning because of the association between higher belly fat and cardiovascular disease.
“Cardiovascular disease [such as heart attack and stroke] is thought to be a male dominated disease, and the reason for that is because, when we compare pre-menopausal women with men of the same age, we find men have higher rates,” he explained. “But, in Australia, the number one leading cause of death in women is actually cardiovascular disease, and a possible linking factor to cardiovascular disease is central fat.”
Mr Ambikairajah said the results demonstrated the necessity of engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviours around menopause.
It mirrors the result of a 2012 study conducted by researchers at Monash University, which compared weight gain and distribution in women who underwent menopause early or late to those who went through menopause at an average time. They concluded the weight gain was ultimately due to environmental factors and ageing, rather than the onset of menopause.
Dr Nicholas Fuller, leader of the clinical research program at the Boden Institute within the University of Sydney, said it was now well established that menopause itself does not cause weight gain, although it occurs during a life stage when other factors are likely to.
“It’s a byproduct of ageing, and a time when you have to work harder at your health,” he said, adding that a slowing metabolism and decreasing muscle mass was more likely to play a role than diet.
Dr Fuller said it was important to monitor weight during and after menopause, as well as take part in regular physical activity.
“[Ageing] can make it harder to participate in physical activity, we might be experiencing aches and pains and finding it more difficult to participate in the activity we did in our younger years,” he said.
“But you need to find an activity that you love and can stick to. Activity doesn’t have to be about pain.”
The Department of Health’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour guidelines recommend adults aged 18-65 accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity (or an equivalent combination of the two) each week, with muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week. People aged over 65 should aim to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into their day.
Mary Ward is Deputy Lifestyle Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.