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New research in over 423,000 UK adults published in PLOS Genetics has revealed that 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.

The study 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.

Dr Sanne Peters, Research Fellow in Epidemiology at The George Institute for Global Health, UK at the University of Oxford said:

“Observational studies had already shown that obesity is linked to major cardiometabolic diseases, but we wanted to know whether being obese is causally related to other significant non-communicable conditions. With the prevalence of obesity in the UK and worldwide rising rapidly, this research set out to explore how being obese might negatively impact future health outcomes, and how these might differ between women and men.”

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 >30kg/m2); fat distribution (determined by waist-to-hip ratio, WHR, or the so-called ‘apple’ versus ‘pear’ shape); and WHR adjusted by BMI, to determine if and how obesity impacts risk of disease and whether being female or male augments the level of risk.

They found that the disease risk associated with obesity is also 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:
“These 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.”

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