Aspects of adipose tissue cellularity were examined in 15 non-diabetic premenopausal African women with simple obesity living in Johannesburg. A smaller group of six non-obese Black women served as controls. Adipose tissue was obtained by biopsy from the deltoid, gluteal, and abdominal regions, and the mean fat cell size for each site was determined. Fasting plasma glucose, insulin, and lipid levels, and the glucose and insulin responses to a 100 g oral glucose load, in these subjects provided metabolic data for correlative analyses. As expected, the overall mean and regional adipocyte sizes were significantly larger in the overweight subjects. Significant regional variations in fat cell size were also seen, the gluteal region adipocytes being larger than those of other sites in both obese and non-obese women. A significant positive correlation was found between fat cell size and the percentage of ideal body weight. There was no significant relationship between adipocyte size, however, and any of the metabolic variables measured--notably basal or stimulated plasma insulin. Nearly half of the overweight women showed large adipocytes with normal plasma insulin concentrations. A proportion of African women with hypertrophic obesity do not appear to demonstrate any classical metabolic features of insulin resistance; this may be related partly to their high carbohydrate intake and unusual degree of physical activity. Our results do not, however, indicate that hyperinsulinaemia is completely absent in obese Black women.
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