Now a study by Crump and colleagues published in JAMA Intern Medicine suggests that some of this risk may be mitigated by increased physical fitness.
The cohort study involving over 1.5 million Swedish young men in Sweden, who underwent standardized aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and BMI measurements obtained at a military conscription examination and were followed for up to 40 years.
Almost 100,000 men went on to develop hypertension, whereby both high BMI and low aerobic capacity (but not muscular strength) were associated with increased risk of hypertension, independent of family history or socioeconomic factors.
A combination of high BMI (overweight or obese vs normal) and low aerobic capacity (lowest vs highest tertile) was associated with the highest risk of hypertension.
The association with aerobic fitness was apparent at every level of BMI.
Form this study the authors conclude that high BMI and low aerobic capacity in late adolescence are associated with higher risk of hypertension in adulthood.
Although one must also be cautious in assuming causality with regard to associations found in such studies, the observations are certainly compatible with the notion that increased cardiorespiratory fitness may well mitigate some of the impact of increased BMI on hypertension risk.
One factor accounting for this may well be the lack of timely access to sleep testing.
Now, a study by Hirsch Allen and colleagues from the University of British Columbia Hospital Sleep Clinic, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, examined the relationship between severity of sleep apnea and travel times to the clinic in 1275 patients referred for suspected sleep apnea.
After controlling for a number of confounders including gender, age, obesity and education, travel time was a significant predictor of OSA severity with each 10 minute increase in travel time associated with an apnea-hypopnea-index increase of 1.4 events per hour.
The most likely explanation for these findings is probably related to the fact that the more severe the symptoms, the more likely patients are to travel longer distances to undergo a sleep study.
Thus, travel distance may well be a significant barrier for many patients accounting for a large proportion of undiagnosed sleep apnea – at least for milder forms.
Given the often vast distances in Canada one can only wonder about just how much sleep apnea goes under diagnosed because of this issue.
Thus, a study by Asheley Skinner and colleagues, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that increased cardiometabolic risk is tightly linked with severe obesity both in children and young adults.
The study looks at cross-sectional data from overweight or obese children and young adults (3-19 yrs) who were included in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 through 2012.
Among 8579 children and young adults with a body-mass index at the 85th percentile or higher (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts), 46.9% were overweight, 36.4% had class I obesity, 11.9% had class II obesity, and 4.8% had class III obesity.
Overall, for a given weight, males tended to have higher cardiometabolic risk than females.
Even after controlling for age, race or ethnic group, more severe obesity maps more likely to be associated with low HDL cholesterol level, high systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and high triglyceride and glycated hemoglobin levels.
Importantly, while this relationship was constantly present in males, the there were fewer significant differences in these variables according to weight category among female participants, suggesting that for a given body weight, girls were less likely to be at cardiometabolic risk compared to boys.
Thus, while body weight (or body fat) may not be a precise measure of individual health, the risk for having one or more cardiometabolic risk factor increases substantially with increasing severity of obesity.
However, it is also important to note that even in kids and youth with class III obesity, 70% of participants had normal lipids and about 90% of participants did not have elevated blood pressure or glycated hemoglobin.
This points to the fact that for a given body weight there is indeed wide variability in whether or not someone actually has cardiometabolic risk factors.
Thus, whether or not it makes sense to target every kid that presents with an elevated BMI for intervention, remains to be shown – most likely such an approach would probably not be cost-effective.
As in adults, it seems that interventions in kids are probably best targeted by global risk rather than simply by numbers on a scale.
To conclude this brief series on our new exhaustive review of the putative health benefits of long-term weight-loss maintenance, published in Annual Reviews of Nutrition, here is the summary paragraph of our findings:
“Obesity is well recognized as a risk factor for a wide range of health issues affecting virtually every organ system. There is now considerable evidence that intentional weight loss is associated with clinically relevant benefits for the majority of these health issues. However, the degree of weight loss that must be achieved and sustained to reap these benefits varies widely between comorbidities. Downsides of weight loss that is too rapid and/or extreme may occur, as in the increased risk of gallbladder disease, the presence of excess residual skin, or deterioration in liver histology. Uncertainty also remains about the potential benefit or harm of intentional weight loss on patients presenting with some chronic diseases and on overall mortality. Clearly, well- controlled prospective studies are needed to better understand the natural history of obesity and the impact of weight-management interventions on morbidity, quality of life, and mortality in people living with obesity.”
The is much left to be done and answering some of these questions will become progressively easier as better treatments for obesity become available.
While the health benefits associated with intentional weight loss for some complications of obesity (such as elevated lipids and diabetes) are well documented, high-quality studies to back many other potential health benefits are harder to find.
Just how well (or poorly) the putative health benefits of long-term intentional weight loss are documented for each of the many conditions associated with obesity, is now detailed in a comprehensive review of the literature that we just published in the Annual Reviews of Nutrition.
The 40 page long review, which includes almost 250 relevant publications, supports the following main findings:
- Defining and assessing clinically relevant obesity and weight change are challenging tasks. In a given individual, there is often little relationship between the magnitude of obesity and measures of health.
- Despite its modest effect on long-term weight loss, behavioral modifications thatimprove eating behaviors and increase physical activity constitute a cornerstone for integral and sustainable weight management.
- Intentional weight loss is associated with a clinically relevant reduction in blood pressure, improvement in cardiac function, and reduction in cardiovascular events. The duration and magnitude of weight change required to achieve a significant benefit are still unclear.
- In individuals with impaired glucose metabolism at any stage, intentional weight loss achieved by any means is associated with a proportional reduction in T2DM prevalence, severity, and progression.
- Intentional weight loss is consistently associated with a clinically relevant reduction in triglycerides and increase in HDL cholesterol. The effects of weight loss on LDL cholesterol are less consistent.
- Overall, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is commonly associated with excess weight and can show marked improvement with behavioral, pharmacological, and/or surgical weight loss. Very rapid weight loss, however, may worsen liver histology in some patients. Simi- larly, gallbladder disease is not only common in patients presenting with obesity but also highly prevalent after intentional weight loss.
- Obesity is widely recognized as a key modifiable risk factor for osteoarthritis, with sig- nificant improvements in pain and function reported with weight loss.
- Obstructive sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome tend to improve with moderate weight loss; however, complete resolution is not common and is related to very significant weight loss.
- Asthma and COPD are clearly associated with obesity. Sustained weight loss seems to be associated with a significant improvement in asthma symptoms. Data for COPD are rather limited.
- Pregnant women who under go bariatric surgery seem to be less likely to present obstetric complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and macrosomia.
- Data on weight loss and suicide are controversial. Caution may be in order when con- sidering bariatric surgery in patients with a history of suicide ideation or attempt.
- Data suggest that long-term weight loss is associated with an improvement in health- related quality of life. The amount of weight loss required to achieve a significant change, however, remains controversial.
However, there are many other issues where putative benefits of intentional weight loss remain even less clear than with the above.
For many conditions we will likely not know the long-term benefits of obesity treatments till better treatments become available and are tested in affected individuals.