Study Confirms Body Weight Influences on Death
February 25, 2011
A study of more than 1 million Asians found that those who were a normal weight were far less likely to die from any cause than individuals whose body-mass index (BMI) was too high or low. A similar association was seen between BMI and the risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease or other causes.
The study, led by Wei Zheng, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, US, Paolo Boffetta, iPRI. and John D. Potter, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, US, was published in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
“Previous studies that evaluated the association between BMI and the risk of death have been conducted primarily in populations of European descent, and the current definition of overweight and obesity are based essentially on criteria derived from those studies,” said Zheng, Director of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center. “The validity of these criteria in Asian populations has yet to be determined. A large proportion of Asians are very thin and the impact of a severely low BMI on the risk of death has not been well evaluated until now.”
The research, conducted as part of the Asia Cohort Consortium, included health status and mortality information on more than 1.1 million individuals from East and South Asia. In the cohorts of East Asians, including Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, the lowest risk of death was seen among individuals with a BMI in the range of 22.6 to 27.5, which is considered normal to slightly overweight (BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters).
Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations were much like groups in other parts of the world. These East Asians with a raised BMI of 35.0 or higher had a 50 percent higher risk of death. The same was not true for Indians and Bangladeshis, indicating that a high BMI did not affect all ethnic groups in a similar way. Being severely underweight was even more dangerous among all of the Asian populations studied. The risk of death was increased by a factor of 2.8 among those whose BMI was very low, that is, 15.0 or less.
“Our findings capture two different aspects of a rapidly evolving pattern; severe underweight was highly prevalent in Asia in the past, and we can still observe its important impact on mortality,” explained Boffetta. “Looking into the future, however, prevention of overweight and obesity deserves the highest priority.” The authors conclude that this study provides strong evidence supporting the biologic plausibility that excess weight contributes to a higher risk of death.