Study uncovers surprising risk factor differences in obese men and women

Jack Woodfield
Thu, 14 Jul 2016
Study uncovers surprising risk factor differences in obese men and women
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of dying early when compared to people of a healthy weight, highlighting the need for diet-based interventions and therapy. Surprisingly, the risk increase was much greater in men than in women.

This new research, which evaluated 3.9 million adults, found that people who were moderately obese died three years prematurely on average.

Obesity shares a significant relationship with type 2 diabetes, and patients with both conditions are often prescribed drugs that help with weight loss as well as blood glucose control.

Overall, 189 studies were analysed by the Global BMI Mortality Collaboration. At the beginning of the studies, none of the participants smoked or had any long-term illness. This meant that participants who had lost weight through heavy smoking or serious ill health were excluded.

All participants were aged between 35 and 70. The research team found that men of normal weight (with a BMI of 18.5 to 25) had a 19 per cent risk of earlier death and women had an 11 per cent risk. Among people who were moderately obese (with a BMI of 30 to 35), the risk of early death was 29.5 per cent for obese men and 14.6 per cent for obese women.

'Significant impact on health'

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the study, said: "This study shows the power of bringing together data on large populations of patients to answer important questions.

"The results show that being overweight does have a significant impact on your health and strengthen the arguments for public health measures to reduce obesity in our society."

The researchers noted their findings were consistent with previous studies that found obese men had greater insulin resistance, liver fat levels and risk of type 2 diabetes than women.

While the reasons behind obese and overweight men being more likely to die early are unclear, the researchers highlighted that, behind smoking, obesity is the second most significant cause of death in Europe and North America.

Roughly 20 per cent of the population of Europe is made up of obese adults; this figure is 31 per cent in North America.

"Smoking causes about a quarter of all premature deaths in Europe and North America, and smokers can halve their risk of premature death by stopping," said study co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, Oxford University.

"But, overweight and obesity now cause about one in seven of all premature deaths in Europe and one in five of all premature deaths in North America."

Lifestyle interventions

The study highlights the importance of using this data collection to help obese men and women make changes to improve their health.

Benedict Jephcote, Head of Diabetes Education at Diabetes.co.uk, said: "Similarly to diabetes, people who are obese have an increased risk of early death. But it is important to note that these risks are statistical, which means we all have a chance to reduce our risk through finding the right support and information.

"The Low Carb Program is one of the ways in which people with type 2 diabetes can actively improve their health."

The study findings appear in The Lancet.
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