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Status: 08.12.2019 17:19:33

Body weight, Waist Circumference, and Risk of Death in Europe—Results of the EPIC Study

Press release 13.11.2008

Potsdam-Rehbrücke, Germany – Obesity and a large waist circumference are strongly associated with the risk of premature death according to a new study, which explored this risk particularly in persons around fifty to sixty years of age.

Women with a body mass index (BMI) of 24.3 and men with a BMI of 25.3 have the lowest relative risk of death, while those with higher or lower BMI levels have a higher risk. However, at any given BMI, a large waist circumference is strongly predictive of increased mortality.

These results of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), one of the largest long-term prospective studies in the world are of particular importance as they provide strong evidence that body weight as well as the distribution of body fat are both of major relevance for assessing the risk of death.

Tobias Pischon and Heiner Boeing of the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE), Elio Riboli of Imperial College London and their European colleagues published their research results today in the New England Journal of Medicine (Pischon et al., 2008).

Looking at the results of earlier studies, it was controversial up to now to what extent abdominal obesity was a risk factor for premature death independently from general overweight or obesity. This important issue was investigated in the European-wide EPIC Study, with special emphasis on waist and hip circumference. “The study has the largest data basis available at present, thus allowing very reliable conclusions on the association of body weight and waist circumference with risk of death”, explains Hans-Georg Joost, Scientific Director of DIfE.

“The most important result of our study is that overweight and obesity as such, but also the distribution of body fat, affects the risk of death of each individual“, says Tobias Pischon, who is first author of the publication. Abdominal fat is not only a mere energy depot but also releases messenger substances that support the development of chronic diseases. This could explain in part why lean persons with a close to normal BMI but a larger waist circumference have a higher risk of death. In the present study, apparently lean individuals with much abdominal fat were just at risk of death as very obese individuals.

Heiner Boeing, head of the Potsdam EPIC Study commented that the observed association of a lower BMI with a higher risk of death could be related to the loss, due to age or undetected diseases, of muscle mass, which is heavier than fat. Individuals who lose weight in relation to undetected diseases or aging and in absence of physical activity tend to lose more muscle muscular mass that far mass.

Elio Riboli, European coordinator of the EPIC study from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College, declared that “Our results underline the importance of introducing into the normal medical practice the regular measurement of weight and waist-hip circumferences. At the time when medicine tends to develop toward expensive high-technology our study shows that very simple and inexpensive anthropometric measurements can effectively help in identifying subjects at substantially increased risk of premature death.”

The basis for this study are the data of 359,387 participants of the prospective** EPIC Study from 9 European countries. The average age of the participants when data were first collected was 51.5 years of age, and 65.4% of the participants were women. During the follow-up period, which averaged 9.7 years, 14,723 of the participants died. Participants with a high BMI, compared with those in the medium range, died more often from cardiovascular diseases or from cancer. Participants with a low BMI tended to die more frequently from respiratory diseases.

Background information:

*Body mass index (BMI): Body weight [kg] divided by body height in meters, squared: kg/m2. A woman with a height of 1.70 m and a BMI of 24.3 would weigh 70.2 kg. A man with a height of 1.85 m and a BMI of 25.3 would weigh 86.6 kg.

EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition): EPIC is a prospective cohort study started in 1992 aiming to examine the associations between diet, nutrition, cancer, and other chronic diseases. EPIC is a multicenter study with 23 collaborating research centers in 10 European countries and includes 519,000 study participants. The study is led by the EPIC Steering Committee, chaired by Professor Elio Riboli (Imperial College London). The central database and biorepository are located at the International Agency for Research of Cancer of the World Health Organization, Lyon, France). The EPIC-Potsdam study, including 27,548 women and men aged 35 to 65 years at enrolment, is led by Professor Dr. Heiner Boeing.

**When evaluating data in a prospective study, it is important that the participants at the beginning of the study do not yet have any of the diseases to be studied. Then it is possible to assess the risk factors for a given disease before it is diagnosed without falsifying, as far as possible, the data by the presence of the disease. This is the advantage of a prospective study compared to a retrospective study.

The German Institute of Human Nutrition (Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke, DIfE) is member of the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft, a scientific organization comprised of 82 non-university research institutes and related service facilities. They have approximately 13,700 employees (as of 12/2006). Nearly 5,400 of these are researchers (including 2,000 junior scientists). Research in the Leibniz institutes is interdisciplinary and involves application-oriented basic research. The institutes’ work is of national significance and is funded jointly by the German federal government and the federal states (German Länder). The total budget of the institutes is somewhat more than 1,100,000,000 euros annually. Third-party funding amounts to nearly 225 million euros annually. For more information: www.leibniz-gemeinschaft.de.

Contact:

PD Dr. Tobias Pischon
German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE)
Department of Epidemiology
Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116
14558 Nuthetal/Germany
Tel.: ++49 (0)33200 88 723
E-Mail: pischon@dife.de

Prof. Dr. Heiner Boeing
German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE)
Department of Epidemiology
Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116
D-14558 Nuthetal/Germany
Tel.: ++49 (0)33200 88 710
E-Mail: boeing@dife.de

Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans-Georg Joost
German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE)
Department of Pharmacology
Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116
14558 Nuthetal/ Germany
Tel.: +49/33200/88-416
E-Mail: joost@dife.de

Dr. Gisela Olias
Press and Public Relations
German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE)
Arthur-Scheunert-Allee 114-116
14558 Nuthetal/Germany
Tel.: +49(0)33 200-88 278/335
Fax: +49(0)33 200-88 503
E-Mail: olias@dife.de

 

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