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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds Weight History Could Identify Increased Risk of Early Death

A patient’s weight history could help identify their risk of dying prematurely, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

The study, published online at JAMA Network Open, found that an obese classification based on body mass index (BMI) at any point in adulthood was associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality. The researchers saw a 21.9 percent increased risk of death for each 5-unit increase in a person’s lifetime maximum BMI.

The researchers used data from 6,197 participants of the Boston University-based Framingham Heart Study, one of the world’s longest-running studies on cardiovascular disease. The researchers examined the weight history of the participants over 24 years, a period in which 3,478 of the participants died. They found an association between an individual’s maximum BMI and risk of all-cause mortality, with those whose BMI was ever in the obese range being the most likely to have died in the 24-year period. For participants whose maximum BMI was above the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-defined normal range, they found a 27 percent increased risk of death for each 5-unit increase in maximum BMI. The researchers also found that death from cardiovascular disease was the most strongly associated with higher BMI, although they also observed significant associations with other causes of death.

The study is part of a body of research that undercuts the so-called “obesity paradox” raised by prior studies suggesting being overweight can lead to greater survival rates among certain groups of people. Recently, BUSPH researchers found that looking at weight history over a lifetime, instead of a single weight measurement, did show an association between obesity and higher mortality.

“This study highlights the importance of eliciting weight history in clinical practice for identifying patients at increased risk of death, and the importance of obesity prevention,” says senior author Dr. Ching-Ti Liu, associate professor of biostatistics at BUSPH.

Read more about the study.