Massive new study confirms higher BMI linked with serious increase in multiple diseases in the UK

In a brand-new study released today (29th April 2019), scientists from Novo Nordis have confirmed that people living in the UK who are overweight or obese are more likely to experience a wide variety of life-threatening diseases. This cutting-edge research was revealed at the 2019 European Conference on Obesity, held in Glasgow this week. 60% of the UK population are classified as overweight or obese by BMI, or body mass index1.

BMI is calculated by comparing weight to height, and is commonly used as an indicator of total body health. A ‘healthy’ range is 18-24, and BMI of over 25 is considered overweight. 30 and above is classified as ‘obese’, 35-40 is obesity class II, and 40-45, the most seriously obese group, is obesity class III2.

Researchers found that people with a BMI greater than 25 are far more likely to experience comorbid diseases, directly rising from their weight. This includes type-2 diabetes; cardiovascular difficulties such as angina, heart failure, sleep apnoea, and stroke; and certain types of cancers. 

This study used anonymous data gathered from General Practitioner’s databases (the ‘UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink’) from January 2000 to July 2018, as opposed to data from clinical trials. Clinical trials are highly selective and often have a low sample size, and frequently exclude specific members of the public, like pregnant women and those with certain illnesses. As clinical trial participation is voluntary, people involved may have a greater level of health literacy, compared to a large study like this. This study used 2.8 million anonymous people’s data to ascertain the risks between weight and disease. This sample was representative of the UK’s population, and the average age for participants was 51.

Compared with ‘healthy’ weight individuals, individuals falling into the ‘obese’ bracket are 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea, and these risks are 8 and 14 fold higher in those with classes II or III obesity respectively. Class III obese individuals have triple the risk of heart failure and high blood pressure. Perhaps most shockingly, these individuals are at a 50% higher risk of dying prematurely, which is “phenomenally high”.

“Comparing BMI risk across a large number of outcomes in the same large population sample suggests that risk levels associated with BMI are different for different health outcomes. The health risks linked with having excess body weight are particularly high for type 2 diabetes and sleep apnoea”, says author Christiane Haase from Novo Nordisk, Denmark. “With the number of people living with obesity almost tripling worldwide over the past 30 years (105 million people in 1975 to 650 million in 2016), our findings have serious implications for public health. Body mass index represents an important modifiable risk factor for ameliorating the risk of a wide variety of serious health problems in the general population.”

Nick Finer of Novo Nordisk showing the group’s research efforts. Credit: Emily May Armstrong

Most importantly, the development of new disease over the course of the study was highly dependent on if the patient had any pre-existing diseases at the beginning of the study. For example, a history of heart problems doubles the risk of future heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

The authors are keen to underline that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. If a member of the study visited their GP and had their BMI recorded, they may be experiencing illness or disease symptoms, as people in good health are less likely to visit their GP. This bias may skew the final results of the study. 

This study eclipses previous research efforts into the link between weight and disease in the UK, because of its size, scope, and detail. It will inform and steer how healthcare professionals in the UK approach obesity as a disease, allowing holistic treatment and improving patient outcomes.

This article was edited by Kirstin Leslie.

References

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/bmi-calculator/
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html

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