Obesity and 'Spare Tire' Raise Hispanics' Odds for Early Death
Excess weight, especially a "spare tire" around the middle, increases the risk of an earlier death for Hispanics, a large new study suggests.
The study found that for every 5 point increase in body mass index above 25, the risk of dying prematurely went up by 30%.
Body mass index (BMI) is an estimate of a person's fat levels based on height and weight. BMI that falls between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. Anything over 30 is obese. So if you jump from overweight to obese, the study found that your risk of dying during the study period went up by 30%.
This study's findings run counter to some past research that suggested that unlike other population groups, Hispanics didn't appear at risk of obesity's most serious effect -- dying prematurely. This phenomenon was dubbed the "Hispanic paradox."
But the researchers explained that findings from some past research may have been skewed if they didn't take into account the rapid weight loss that can be caused by certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
"There is no Hispanic paradox. Overweight and obesity are major causes of death in Hispanic populations, just as they are in non-Hispanic populations," said study author Jonathan Emberson. He's an associate professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Joel Zonszein is director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. He wasn't involved in the current research but summed up the study's findings: "Fat is bad, no matter what type. People who have obesity are at a very high risk of cardiovascular disease events and premature deaths."
Zonszein agreed there is no Hispanic paradox. He said excess fat in anyone can increase the risk of early death, especially fat carried around the middle.
There are a number of ways a higher BMI can be linked to an increased risk of premature death.
"Among other things, higher BMI increases the risk of developing diabetes, increases blood pressure and blood cholesterol and damages the kidneys, all of which increase the risk of premature death," Emberson explained.
He added that fat around the middle is a significant problem because it can surround some of the major internal organs like the liver and kidneys, affecting their ability to work normally.
The study included more than 115,000 people from Mexico City. They were 35 to 75 years old when recruited. The researchers followed their health for up to 14 years.
The study excluded anyone with a diagnosis of diabetes or a blood test result indicating diabetes. The researchers also excluded anyone with known chronic diseases.
In addition to height and weight measurements to calculate BMI, the researchers also measured the volunteers' waist circumference and their waist-to-hip ratio. These measurements help doctors know how much abdominal fat someone has.
The average BMI was 28 in men and 29.6 in women -- overweight, but not obese.
The association between BMI and risk of death during the study period was higher (40%) for people 40 to 60 years old. For those 60 and over, a 5 point increase in BMI above 25 was tied to a 24% increase in death risk, the findings showed.
The researchers said that waist measurements were also associated with a similarly increased risk of dying. And even when the researchers controlled for BMI, a larger waistline was still linked to a higher risk of premature death.
Emberson said this finding suggests "that central obesity is particularly harmful."
Findings from the study were published Aug. 12 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
For tips on getting to a healthy weight, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
SOURCES: Jonathan Emberson, Ph.D., associate professor, medical statistics and epidemiology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Joel Zonszein, M.D., director, clinical diabetes center, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; Aug. 12, 2019, Annals of Internal Medicine