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Obesity linked to broader range of leading killers

Causes of death are different between women and men

The health implications of obesity extend much further than diabetes and heart disease, increasing the risk of death from diseases of the kidneys, lungs and liver, scientists have warned.

The study of over 423,000 UK adults, published in PLOS Genetics, found that obese individuals are more likely to be affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, liver diseases and lung cancer – life-threatening conditions that the World Health Organization has ranked as leading causes of death and disability.

Globally, levels of obesity have tripled since 1975. In 2017, 29% of adults in England were obese, rising by 3% from the previous year.

Researchers from the University of Oxford used three obesity traits: overall obesity (BMI of more than 30kg/m2); fat distribution (determined by waist-to-hip ratio, or WHR); and WHR adjusted by BMI.

They found that the disease risk associated with obesity is different between women and men. A higher BMI led to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes in women than in men, whereas a higher WHR increased risks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease more in men than in women.

Dr Jenny Censin, a DPhil candidate of the Big Data Institute, University of Oxford, said the findings reveal that obesity is associated with major causes of death, with several of the relationships between obesity and causes of death being different between women and men.

“As obesity is preventable, our findings are of relevance to public health policy and practice, and suggests that these should include sex-specific measures in wider preventative approaches,” she said.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.