Does eating chili pepper decrease or increase obesity risk?

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers explored the association between chili pepper intake frequency and the risk of obesity.

Study: Does chili pepper consumption affect BMI and obesity risk? A cross-sectional analysis. Image Credit: Maryia_K /

Risk factors for obesity

Achieving an energy balance through a healthy diet and physical activity is considered the best strategy to combat obesity.

Obesity is a chronic metabolic condition defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more. Owing to its rising prevalence throughout the world, obesity has become a major public health concern.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), about 35% of males and 40% of females in the United States are affected by obesity. Obesity is associated with various health complications, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, kidney and liver diseases, as well as certain cancers.

Numerous studies have evaluated the health benefits of spices and herbs, including chili peppers. Capsaicin, an active ingredient in chili peppers, has shown promising outcomes in the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Regarding obesity management, chili peppers have been found to increase energy expenditure, reduce appetite and energy intake, and improve lipid oxidation. Nevertheless, previous studies investigating the association between chili pepper intake and obesity risk have produced mixed results. Moreover, most of these studies have involved Asian populations due to these nations' relatively higher consumption rates of chili peppers.

About the study

In the current study, scientists investigate the association between chili intake frequency, BMI, and obesity prevalence in the U.S. general population. Data were obtained from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which compiles comprehensive demographic, health, and nutritional information across various age groups and ethnicities in the U.S.

The study analyzed data obtained from 6,138 participants. Data on chili intake frequency were collected from a food frequency questionnaire. Based on this information, participants were divided into three groups: no chili intake, occasional chili intake, and frequent chili intake groups.

Data on participants’ height and weight were used to calculate BMI, with a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or more considered obese. A wide range of socio-demographic and lifestyle characteristics of the participants were considered in the final analysis as covariates. 

Study findings

Based on the questionnaire responses, 16.8%, 74%, and 9.2% of the total study population were divided into the no-chili intake, occasional-chili intake, and frequent-chili intake groups, respectively. Regarding lifestyle risk factors related to obesity, 44.6%, 69.7%, 36.3%, and 12.5% of study participants reported current smoking habits, alcohol intake, hypertension, and diabetes, respectively.

The comparative analysis did not identify any significant differences in BMI between the three chili intake groups. However, a significant positive association was observed between chili intake frequency and obesity prevalence.

Among tested covariates, significant differences in age, sex, ethnicity, educational background, marital status, family income, alcohol intake, physical activity level, presence of diabetes, and dietary intake were observed between the three chili intake groups.

The analysis adjusting for all covariates revealed that participants from the frequent chili intake group had significantly higher BMI values than other group participants. More specifically, individuals who consumed chili peppers most frequently were associated with an average of 0.71 units greater BMI values than those who did not report any chili intake. The fully adjusted analysis also revealed that participants with the highest chili intake had a 55% greater risk of developing obesity as compared to non-consumers.  

Among tested sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, gender significantly influenced sociodemographic variables between chili intake frequency and BMI. For obesity risk, age and gender were identified as significant influencing factors, with a greater risk of obesity due to chili intake observed among female participants and those 60 years and older.


Frequent intake of chili was found to significantly increase BMI and obesity risk in U.S. adults, especially females. These findings are in line with several large-scale observational studies previously conducted in Asian countries. Importantly, chili peppers are frequently consumed with high-fat, high-calorie foods, which are part of unhealthy dietary patterns that are often responsible for weight gain.

Due to the current study's cross-sectional design, the scientists could not establish a causal relationship between chili intake frequency and obesity risk. Moreover, the survey data did not include chili pepper types, spiciness, and intake amounts; therefore, associations of these factors with BMI and obesity could not be addressed.

Overall, the study findings suggest that restricting the intake of chili peppers might reduce the risk of weight gain and obesity.

Journal reference:
  • Liu, M., Zhu, Y., & Wang, F. (2024). Does chili pepper consumption affect BMI and obesity risk? A cross-sectional analysis. Frontiers in Nutrition. doi:10.3389/fnut.2024.1410256/full
Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Written by

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta

Dr. Sanchari Sinha Dutta is a science communicator who believes in spreading the power of science in every corner of the world. She has a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree and a Master's of Science (M.Sc.) in biology and human physiology. Following her Master's degree, Sanchari went on to study a Ph.D. in human physiology. She has authored more than 10 original research articles, all of which have been published in world renowned international journals.


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  1. Rick Savage Rick Savage United States says:

    very ridiculous study. of course eating chilies with high fat foods will increase obesity. but adding them to a low fat low calorie smoothie what will happen. nothing in this study to say it will be the cause.

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