09:28am Tuesday 18 February 2020

Evidence that BMI has an independent and causal effect on heart disease risk

This is the key finding from new research, published in PLoS Medicine, which evaluated the causal relationship between BMI and heart disease in 76,000 individuals.

In addition to the many risk factors associated with poor health, reducing body mass index (BMI) will have a considerable and independent impact if you want to reduce the risk of developing ischemic heart disease (IHD). This is the key finding from new research, published in PLoS Medicine, which evaluated the causal relationship between BMI and heart disease in 76,000 individuals.

BMI, alongside age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and individuals who have family history of the disease, has been long recognised as a risk factor for heart disease. Despite this, the actual causal contribution of BMI to disease risk has been difficult to quantify.

New findings from a collaborative effort between the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology (CAiTE) at the University of Bristol and colleagues from Copenhagen University Hospital, have revealed that an elevation in BMI of around 4kg/m2 across the life-course will increase the risk of developing the disease by 50 per cent on average.

Using genetic data from three large Danish studies — the Copenhagen General Population Study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study and the Copenhagen Ischemic Heart Disease Study — the researchers were able to use genetic variation known to be related to BMI to measure the true causal effect between this and IHD.

In observational estimates, the researchers found that for every 4 kg increase in BMI a 26 per cent increase in odds for developing IHD, while causal analysis identified a 52 per cent increase.

Dr Timpson, Lecturer in Genetic Epidemiology from the University’s School of Social and Community Medicine, said: “In light of rising obesity levels, these findings are fundamental to improving public health. Our research shows that shifting to a lifestyle that promotes a lower BMI (even if it does nothing else) will reduce the odds of developing the disease.”

Professor Børge Nordestgaard, lead author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, added: “These findings are of key importance, as obesity linked to diabetes is the only major cardiovascular risk factor on the rise in North America and Europe, while smoking, cholesterol levels and hypertension have been decreasing.”

The paper, entitled The effect of elevated body mass index on ischemic heart disease risk: causal estimates from a Mendelian Randomisation Approach, by Børge Nordestgaard, Tom Palmer, Marianne Benn, Jeppe Zacho, Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, George Davey-Smith, Nicholas Simpson, is published in PloS Medicine today [01 May 2012].


Further information:

Body Mass Index (BMI)

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure used to assess weight (a proxy for adiposity/fatness) adjusting for height. BMI less than 25 kg/m2represents normal weight, BMI of 25-30 kg/m2represents overweight, and BMI over 30 kg/m2represents obesity.

Notes to editors

For a copy of the paper or to arrange an interview please contact Caroline Clancy, Press Officer, University of Bristol, tel: +44 (0)117 928 8086, mobile +44 (0)7776 170238, email: caroline.clancy@bristol.ac.uk

The paper will be available to view at the following URL once the embargo lifts: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001212  

Medical Research Council

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk

University of Copenhagen

With over 37,000 students and more than 7,000 employees, the University of Copenhagen is the largest institution of research and education in Denmark. With its more than 530 years, the University of Copenhagen is one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Copenhagen University Hospital represents teaching and research hospitals in Copenhagen directly linked to University of Copenhagen through professors and other researchers at the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Issued by the Public Relations Office, Communications Division, University of Bristol

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