More years of obesity means higher risk of disease, study finds

The results of a new study have revealed that the duration of obesity is correlated with worse values for all cardiometabolic disease factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin. The study, published this month in the journal PLOS Medicine, highlights the importance of tackling obesity at an early age to reduce a person’s risk of developing illnesses related to cardiometabolic disease factors, such as heart attack and stroke.

cardiogramImage Credit: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Years spent obese related to higher HbA1c

A team of researchers at Loughborough University, UK, led by Tom Norris, senior research associate in epidemiology and biostatistics, designed a study to investigate the relationship between duration of time spent with obesity and the risk of developing cardiometabolic disease risk factors. The results of the study showed that this risk is not uniform across those with obesity, and it is worsened by spending more years with obesity.

Data was collected and analyzed from three separate cohort studies that all recruiting a total of 20,746 participants from the UK where their body mass index (BMI), was recorded between the ages of 10 to 40 years old. These studies also collected data on cardiometabolic disease risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glycated hemoglobin (blood sugar).

Previous research has shown that on their own, each of these factors is associated with serious health implications, but in combination particularly they increase a person’s chance of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke.

The study found that all cardiometabolic risk factors were related to years spent with obesity. Worse values for all factors were correlated with more years spent with a BMI classified as obese. The study’s results showed that more years spent with obesity particularly worsened values for glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c).

Those who spent five years or less with obesity had a 5% higher HbA1c level in comparison with those who were never classed as obese. Those who spend 20 to 30 years with obesity had a 20% higher HbA1c compared with those never classed as obese.

This increased risk remained even when researchers adjusted for obesity severity. The results also showed that other measures of cardiometabolic disease risk, such as systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol were also related to years spent with obesity.

The authors highlight the significance of their work, “Our findings suggest that health policy recommendations aimed at preventing early obesity onset, and therefore reducing lifetime exposure, may help reduce risk of diabetes, independently of obesity severity.”

The importance of early intervention

The study’s results demonstrate how more years spent with obesity may increase a person’s chance of developing illnesses related to cardiometabolic risk factors, such as heart disease or stroke.

Given that cardiovascular diseases are the biggest cause of all deaths around the world, and that stroke is the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability, understanding how to reduce a person’s risk of these events has the potential to significantly impact quality of life and healthcare burden worldwide.

With the duration of obesity linked to increased risk, this study suggests the importance of tackling obesity early on in life, preventing people from passing their childhood years with obesity. The study’s results will likely guide the development of new strategies that healthcare systems may develop to prevent obesity, particularly in those at risk.

It should also guide the establishment of interventions to help people struggling with obesity to make lifestyle choices to reduce their weight and improve their overall health long term. Often, it is assumed that obesity severity is the main factor related to worsening health outcomes, whereas this study highlights the role that duration of obesity also plays.

Journal reference:

Norris, T., Cole, T.J., Bann, D., Hamer, M., Hardy, R., Li, L., et al. (2020). Duration of obesity exposure between ages 10 and 40 years and its relationship with cardiometabolic disease risk factors: A cohort study. PLoS Med. 17(12): e1003387. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pmed.1003387

Sarah Moore

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Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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