Changes in Visceral and Ectopic Adipose Tissue Stores Across Pregnancy and Their Relationship to Gestational Weight Gain

Kimberly K. Vesco, Nicole E. Marshall, Eric Baetscher, Michael C. Leo, William Rooney, Melanie Francisco, Eric Baker, Janet C. King, Patrick Catalano, Antonio E. Frias, Jonathan Q. Purnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Excessive gestational weight gain has been associated with increased total body fat (TBF), metabolic syndrome, and abdominal obesity. However, little is known about the relationship of gestational weight gain with changes in metabolically active visceral or ectopic (hepatic and skeletal muscle) lipid stores. Objectives: In a prospective study of 50 healthy, pregnant women, we assessed whether changes in weight were associated with changes in total, visceral, and ectopic lipid stores. Methods: Participants (ages 19-39) were primarily White (84%). The mean preconception BMI was 25.8 kg/m2 (SD, 4.5 kg/m2; min-max, 17.1-35.9 kg/m2). Measurements were completed at visits 1 and 2 at means of 16 and 34 weeks gestation, respectively, and included TBF using BOD POD; abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) using MRI; and intrahepatic lipids (IHL), intramyocellular lipids (IMCL), and extramyocellular lipids (EMCL) using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We used paired t-Tests to examine changes in adipose tissue and Pearson's correlation to examine associations of adipose tissue changes and weight changes. We also examined whether changes in adipose tissue stores differed by preconception BMI (normal, overweight, and obese), using 1-way ANOVA. Results: The TBF (mean change, +3.5 kg; 95% CI: 2.4-4.6 kg), SAT (mean change, +701 cm3; 95% CI: 421-981 cm3), VAT (mean change, +275 cm3; 95% CI: 170-379 cm3), and IHL (percentage water peak; median, +0.15; IQR =-0.01 to 0.32) values increased significantly; the IMCL and EMCL values did not change. Changes varied by BMI strata, with the least increase (or, for SAT, net loss) among women with obesity. Weight change was positively correlated with changes in TBF (r = 0.83; P < 0.001), SAT (r = 0.74; P < 0.001), and VAT (r = 0.63; P < 0.001) but not significantly correlated with changes in ectopic lipids (IHL, IMCL, and EMCL;-0.14 < r < 0.26). Conclusions: Preferential deposition of adipose tissue to the viscera in pregnancy, as seen in our sample, could serve an important metabolic function; however, excessive deposition in this region could negatively affect maternal health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1130-1137
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • Body composition
  • Ectopic lipids
  • Gestational weight gain
  • Intrahepatic lipids
  • Pregnancy
  • Subcutaneous adipose tissue
  • Visceral adipose tissue
  • Visceral fat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Changes in Visceral and Ectopic Adipose Tissue Stores Across Pregnancy and Their Relationship to Gestational Weight Gain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this