Weight Gain During Adulthood Increases Risk of Diabetes, Cancer

Gaining more than 5 pounds linked to several chronic diseases and overall poor health.

Exercise and healthy eating are the gold standard for preventing chronic diseases and health problems later in life. Findings from a new study suggest that weight gain during early and middle adulthood may increase the risk of developing chronic diseases and poor health.

The investigators discovered that patients who gained 5 to 22 pounds before age 55 had an increased risk of chronic diseases, premature death, and a decreased chance of healthy aging, according to a new study published by JAMA. The authors indicated that a higher amount of weight gain was linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases.

“Our study is the first of its kind to systematically examine the association of weight gain from early to middle adulthood with major health risks later in life,” said senior author Frank Hu, MD, PhD. “The findings indicate that even a modest amount of weight gain may have important health consequences.”

A majority of individuals gain weight during young and middle adulthood for a variety of reasons. While the weight gain may be slow and unnoticeable to the patient and physician, it can be significant when looked at cumulatively.

Included in the study were data from 118,140 patients, with 92,837 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and 25,303 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

Participants recalled their weight from early adulthood and also reported their weight at age 55. The authors discovered that since age 18, women gained an average of 22 pounds and since age 21, men gained an average of 19 pounds.

Compared with participants who had stable weight (not gaining or losing more than 5 pounds), participants who gained weight were observed to have an increased risk of chronic disease and premature death. Patients who gained weight were also less likely to score well on assessments of physical and cognitive health, according to the study.

In a meta-analysis, the authors found that each 11-pound weight gain was linked to a 30% increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a 14% increased risk of hypertension, and an 8% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This amount of weight gain was also associated with a 6% increased risk of obesity-related cancer, a 5% increased risk of premature death, and a 17% decreased risk of healthy aging, according to the report.

These findings suggest that individuals should be aware of small annual weight gain during adulthood, as it can lead to significant adverse events later in life.

“These findings may help health professionals counsel patients about the health consequences of weight gain. Prevention of weight gain through healthy diets and lifestyle is of paramount importance,” said researcher Yan Zheng, PhD.