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Abstract

In adults, abdominal visceral adiposity is related to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and stroke. The antecedents of these conditions likely begin with the alterations in body fat distribution during childhood and adolescence. The sexually dimorphic alterations in fat distribution are influenced by sex differences in hormone concentrations, anatomical differences in the number and density of specific hormone receptors, capillary blood flow, and the activity of enzymes promoting lipid synthesis or degradation. Hormones influencing the amount and regional distribution of adipose tissue during puberty include cortisol, insulin, growth hormone, and the sex steroids. Cortisol and insulin promote fat deposition while the sex steroids and GH stimulate lipolysis. An overly sensitive hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis may exist in obesity and disrupt the balance between the lipogenic effects of cortisol and insulin and the lipolytic effects of sex steroids and growth hormone. Leptin is released from the adipocytes and may act as a metabolic signal to the hypothalamic areas controlling satiety, energy expenditure, and the regulation of cortisol, insulin, sex steroid and growth hormone release. The complex issues of the hormonal control of alterations in body fat distribution during puberty are developed and a working model is proposed. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 11:209–224, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.