Obesity linked with premature death in Cambridge study part-funded by the BHF

13 July 2016        

Person standing on a scale

An international research collaboration, which we helped to fund, has found that being overweight or obese is associated with increased risk of death before the age of 70.

The findings, published in The Lancet, show that the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory disease are all increased. The researchers, led by a University of Cambridge team including BHF Professor John Danesh, also found that the overall excess risk of premature death among the overweight or obese is about three times greater in men than in women.

Professor Danesh discusses the power of 'big data' for research like this.

Obesity and heart disease risk

In 2014 over 60 per cent of adults (aged 16 or over) were overweight or obese (65 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women). Research has already shown that reaching and keeping to a healthy weight cuts risk of heart disease because it helps prevent and manage conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes that increase risk of coronary heart disease.

This study of 3.9 million adults around the world shows that where the risk of premature death would be 19 per cent and 11 per cent for men and women with a normal BMI (18.5-25), it would be 29.5 per cent and 14.6 per cent for moderately obese men and women (BMI 30-35). This means an absolute increased risk of 10.5 per cent for men, and 3.6 per cent for women.

Focusing on the effect of weight

The researchers gathered data on the causes of any deaths in 3.9 million adults from 189 previous studies in Europe, North America and elsewhere. All of the adults were aged between 20 and 90 years old, non-smokers and not known to have any chronic disease, at the start of each study when their BMI was recorded. They analysed those who then survived at least another five years.

"On average, overweight people lose about one year of life expectancy, and moderately obese people lose about three years of life expectancy," says the lead author, Dr Emanuele Di Angelantonio from the University of Cambridge. "We also found that men who were obese were at much higher risk of premature death than obese women. This is consistent with previous observations that obese men have greater insulin resistance, liver fat levels, and diabetes risk than women."

Further evidence for need to fight obesity

Commenting on the findings of this study, which we funded alongside the MRC, Cancer Research UK, the NIHR and the US NIH, our Medical Director, Professor Peter Weissberg, said:

"This study shows the power of bringing together data on large populations of patients to answer important questions. The results show that being overweight does have a significant impact on your health and strengthen the arguments for public health measures to reduce obesity in our society."

We are not only the biggest independent funder of heart disease research in the UK, we also provide educational material and support on preventing heart disease. Last year we became one of over 30 organisations in the Obesity Health Alliance, which is working together to fight obesity to reduce ill-health.

Help us fund more research to fight heart disease.