Strong Evidence Links Obesity With Multiple Diseases

High body mass index is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal, and respiratory conditions.

A new study by the University of South Australia has presented the strongest evidence yet of a causal relationship between obesity and various serious conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurological, musculoskeletal, and respiratory conditions.

Using data from UK Biobank, a research database holding health and genetic information from a half-million volunteers, to analyze association between body mass index (BMI) and a range of disease outcomes in 337,536 people.

Previous research has suggested that high BMI is associated with an increased risk of chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer; however, due to the difficulty of conducting clinical trials related to obesity, it had been difficult to prove causation.

This study included a multi-dimensional analysis, in which genetic data were subjected to a suite of stringent examinations in order to prove causation. The study authors compared evidence from 5 different statistical approaches. Fully consistent evidence across all of these approaches was seen for 14 different diseases. For 26 different diseases, evidence was obtained by at least for 4 of the 5 methods, according to the report.

One key finding from the study was the extent to which it confirms existing concerns regarding the link between obesity and diabetes, with many of the diseases—such as nerve disorders, chronic leg and foot ulcers, and gangrene—related to high BMI known to be commonly associated with poorly controlled diabetes, according to the study authors. This suggests that a key aspect to reducing comorbidity risk in obesity is carefully monitoring blood sugar and effectively controlling diabetes and its complications.

The study also highlights the importance of genetic research to further the understanding of the role genes play in obesity and the insights it can provide for the future management and treatment of obesity, the study concluded.


  • Elina Hyppönen, Anwar Mulugeta, Ang Zhou, Vimaleswaran Karani Santhanakrishnan. A data-driven approach for studying the role of body mass in multiple diseases: a phenome-wide registry-based case-control study in the UK Biobank. The Lancet Digital Health, 2019; 1 (3): e116 DOI: 10.1016/S2589-7500(19)30028-7. Accessed August 5, 2019.

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