Regardless of lifestyle and other health-related factors, heavier people were more likely than lean ones to be hospitalised for a variety of conditions in a new study from Australia.
That was the case not just for obese people, but for the merely overweight as well. Among middle-aged adults, every extra body mass index (BMI) point was tied to a 4% higher chance of being admitted to the hospital over a two-year period, researchers found.
"There is considerable evidence that severe obesity is bad for your health, resulting in higher rates of disease and consequently higher use of health services and higher death rates," said lead author Rosemary Korda, from the Australian National University in Canberra.
Risk increases as BMI goes up
"What this study shows is that there is a gradual increase in risk of hospitalisation as BMI increases, starting with people in the overweight range," she added. "In other words, even being overweight (but not obese) still increases your risk."
Dr Korda and her colleagues recruited close to 250 000 people age 45 and above from New South Wales. After surveying them about their height, weight and other health and lifestyle issues, the researchers tracked participants through hospital data.
Over the next two years, they had more than 61 000 total hospitalisations lasting at least one night.
Among people considered in the normal range for BMI, there were 120 hospitalisations for every 1 000 men and 102 per 1 000 women each year. For those considered severely obese, on the other hand, there were 203 hospitalisations for every 1 000 men and 183 per 1 000 women, on average.
What the research showed
Overweight and moderately obese people had hospitalisation rates somewhere in between.
That pattern held up even after taking into account whether participants smoked, how physically active they were and their general health at baseline.
Extra weight seemed especially to play a role in hospitalisation for diabetes, heart disease, chest pain, arthritis and asthma, the researchers reported in the International Journal of Obesity.
The new study "gives the public one more reason to try to lose weight," said Dr Robert Klesges, a preventive medicine researcher from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
"Extending this research to overweight individuals is a unique contribution. Basically it tells to tens of millions of Americans that, 'You are now at risk,'" said Dr Klesges, who wasn't involved in the study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just under 36% of American adults are obese. Another 33% are overweight but not obese.
"While increasing weight leads to increasing risk, this also means that a gradual decrease in weight is likely to gradually decrease your risk - i.e. if you are overweight or obese, even small decreases in weight may make a positive difference to your health," Dr Korda said.
(Reuters Health, October 2012)
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