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Obesity and disease

Link between obesity, T2DM, heart disease and cancer

The researchers said that there is evidence of obesity effects on peripheral nerve disorders, chronic leg and foot ulcers, and even gangrene and kidney failure, which are all known to be diabetic complications

A data-driven approach has identified a range of diseases as possibly affected by high BMI, according to research from the University of South Australia's Australian Centre for Precision Health. The study investigators examined links between BMI and more than 925 diseases in 337,536 UK volunteers and confirmed the link between obesity and conditions such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The paper, ‘A data-driven approach for studying the role of body mass in multiple diseases: a phenome-wide registry-based case-control study in the UK Biobank’, was published in The Lancet.

Led by Professor Elina Hypponen, researchers developed a multi-dimensional analysis that subjected genetic data to stringent examinations in order to deliver high confidence of causality.

"We conducted five different analyses and the more consistent the evidence for a causal association between obesity and health outcomes across these five different approaches, the more confident we could be that we were looking at the true causal effect," said Hypponen.

She said while previous research suggested a high BMI was linked with increased risk of chronic diseases, the clinical trials used to asses health risks of obesity were typically too small or too short to assess causation with many of the diseases. To overcome this challenge, the researchers used alternative statistical approaches. Drawing data from the UK Biobank (a research database holding health and genetic information from half a million UK volunteers) the researchers looked at the link between genetic obesity risks and more than 900 disease outcomes.

"The results were really quite astounding," she said. "Fully consistent evidence across all approaches was seen for 14 different diseases, and for 26 different diseases evidence was obtained by at least four of the five methods used. What increases the confidence that these associations are largely reflective of real effects is the fact that those effects which came across with consistent evidence are also ones for which we have previous clinical evidence."

Hypponen explained that while all five of the approaches used to help prove causation rely on a number of statistical assumptions by working through each of the approaches, they were able to note consistent evidence of causal association.

She said the approach could be used to cement the relationship between disease risks and other health factors and has already been used by researchers to identify the link between serum iron concentration and disease risks.

The study also highlighted the importance of genetic research to further the understanding that genes played in obesity, and the insights it could provide for the future management and treatment of obesity. One of the key findings, was the strong the relationship observed between obesity and diabetes.

“For example, we saw evidence for obesity effects on peripheral nerve disorders, chronic leg and foot ulcers, and even gangrene and kidney failure, which are all known to be diabetic complications,” she concluded. “This suggests a key aspect to reduce comorbidity risk in obesity is careful monitoring of blood sugar and effective control of diabetes and its complications.”

To access this paper, please click here

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