January 24, 2006

Obesity-related disease “huge” health burden

By David Douglas

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Obesity is associated with a
broad range of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events,
Scottish and Australian researchers report.

"That's a potentially huge public health problem and burden
on the health care system," senior investigator Dr. John J. V.
McMurray told Reuters Health. "Of course, our focus was just on
cardiovascular disease and not the other problems also
associated with obesity -- including cancer."

The whole spectrum of cardiovascular problems related to
obesity has not been evaluated in a single population-based
cohort, Murray of the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, and
colleagues note.

To do so, starting in the early 1970s, the researchers
followed more than 15,000 people, ages 45 to 64 years, from two
towns in the Glasgow area. At the beginning of the study, less
than half of the subjects had a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5
to 24.9, which is considered to be within a normal weight
range. Over 2,000 had a BMI of 30 or higher, which is
considered to be obese.

In the subsequent 20 years, the obese subjects had an
increased risk of a variety of cardiovascular problems compared
with normal weight subjects, according to the report in the
European Journal of Cardiology.

Compared with the normal-weight subjects, obese subjects
had 1.6-times the risk of death or hospital admission;
2.0-times the risk of heart failure; 1.4-times the risk of
stroke; 2.3-times the risk a blood clot; and 1.8-times the risk
of developing an abnormal heart rhythm.

Over the follow-up period, the researchers calculate, for
every 100 middle-age obese men there were 9 additional
cardiovascular deaths and 36 cardiovascular hospitalizations.
The corresponding figures in women were 7 deaths and 28

The investigators note that obesity was measured at study
entry only and participants may have become obese later,
leading to underestimation of the effects.

The team also found that there were 3- or 4-times as many
hospital admissions as deaths related to obesity, noting that
the rising rates of obesity may have a very large impact "not
only on individual health but on the hospital sector."

SOURCE: European Heart Journal, January 2006.