Blacks, Whites Had Same Early Death Risk From Excess Weight

Being overweight or obese tied to early death, even among those who did not smoke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Several small studies have suggested that black people face fewer health risks from being severely overweight than white people. But new research suggests that blacks and whites may face similar risks.

The study, from the American Cancer Society, looked at more than 1 million people to see who was most at risk of dying early from excess weight.

The researchers found that blacks and whites both risked early death if they were overweight or obese.

The research was conducted by Alpa V. Patel, PhD, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues.

The participants answered detailed questionnaires about their height, weight, lifestyle and eating habits in 1982. The average age of those in the study was 57 years old. They were then followed for 28 years. The study authors looked at the National Death Index to see who died during that time and when.

There were 341,196 white men in the study, 12,559 black men, 550,556 white women and 25,560 black women.

By the end of 2010, 50.5 percent of people in the study had died.

The researchers found that a higher BMI was most strongly associated with a higher risk of death — even among patients who had never smoked and did not have a prevalent disease.

BMI (body mass index) is a height- and weight-based measure of body fat. Prevalent disease is a history of illness, including cancer and heart disease.

People who never smoked and did not have other major health issues still faced a raised risk of death from being overweight or obese — regardless of their race, the study authors found.

Mark Mincolla, PhD, author of Whole Health: A Holistic Approach to Healing for the 21st Century, said the risk of death that comes with being obese is proven fact, regardless of race.

"With BMI we're talking about cellular physiology as it pertains to body fat," he told dailyRx News. "The more overweight, and/or obese the subject, the higher their health risks, regardless of race. Recent research shows that men and women with a BMI of 40.0 or higher increase the risk of death by 250% and 200% respectively. It's about the lipid layers beneath the skin, not the skin color."

Increasing weight was associated with a higher risk of death than in people who were considered to be normal weight, except among black women, the researchers found. Heavier black women were at higher risk for death by being very overweight, but black women who were only slightly overweight did not face a significantly higher risk for death.

“Excess body weight is known to increase risk of premature death and risk of various chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer,” the authors wrote.

Men and women who were underweight also faced a higher risk for death than normal-weight people, the study found.

The study was published Oct. 8 in PLOS One.

There was no outside funding for the study, and the authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 12, 2014
Last Updated:
October 15, 2014