Women and men at risk of different obesity-related conditions


New evidence from a large dataset suggests that, while obesity increases health risks for everyone, women and men with obesity are predisposed to different obesity-related conditions.

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The analysis of a large dataset suggests that women and men face somewhat different obesity-related health risks.

Obesity is one of the most common health conditions among populations around the globe.

In the United States, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that this metabolic condition affected 93.3 million adults in 2015–2016.

This health issue concerns doctors, in part, because it can predispose individuals to developing other conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.

But the risks of developing additional health problems are different for women, compared with men, according to a new study from the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom.

Moreover, the study suggests that obesity may increase the risk for more — and more diverse — health conditions than doctors had previously realized.

The researchers published a summary of their findings in PLOS Genetics this month.

“It is increasingly evident that obesity negatively impacts human health, and the prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide. Both overall obesity and fat distribution […] have been linked to cardiometabolic diseases and death in observational studies,” the authors note in the introduction to their study paper.

“However,” they add, “sex-specific relationships are largely unexplored, as is the role that obesity traits play in the leading causes of death beyond these cardiometabolic diseases.”

Women face higher diabetes risk

For the current research, first author Dr. Jenny Censin and colleagues analyzed genetic information and three different measures of obesity in a cohort of 228,466 women and 195,041 men.

The measures of obesity were: body mass index (BMI), waist-hip ratio, and waist-hip ratio adjusted for BMI. The investigators were able to access these data via the UK Biobank.

Through this analysis, Dr. Censin and the team found that obesity can increase a person’s risk of a range of health conditions. These include coronary artery disease, stroke, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic liver disease, kidney failure, and lung cancer.

Moreover, they found some differences in risk when comparing data from men and women with obesity. As it turns out, women with obesity face a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than men with obesity.

Men, on the other hand, have a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease, compared with women who have obesity.

“This study shows just how harmful carrying excess weight can be to human health, and that women and men may experience different diseases as a result,” says Dr. Censin.

These findings, the team notes, add to the evidence that preventing and treating obesity is a crucial step in preventing the emergence of other health conditions.

Given the compelling evidence of harm that arises as a consequence of obesity across a broad range of diseases that result in death, our findings highlight the critical need for public health measures to stem the tide of obesity.”

Co-author Michael Holmes, Ph.D.

Going forward, the evidence that obesity likely contributes to such a wide range of health conditions could reshape public health strategies aimed at prevention, the investigators note.

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