Do worse baseline risk factors explain the association of healthy obesity with increased mortality risk? Whitehall II Study
Objective: To describe 20-year risk factor trajectories according to initial weight/health status and investigate the extent to which baseline differences explain greater mortality among metabolically healthy obese (MHO) individuals than healthy non-obese individuals. Methods: The sample comprised 6 529 participants in the Whitehall II study who were measured serially between 1991-1994 and 2012-2013. Baseline weight (non-obese or obese; body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2) and health status (healthy or unhealthy; two or more of hypertension, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), high triglycerides, high glucose, and high homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR)) were defined. The relationships of baseline weight/health status with 20-year trajectories summarizing ~25 000 observations of systolic and diastolic blood pressures, HDL-C, triglycerides, glucose, and HOMA-IR were investigated using multilevel models. Relationships of baseline weight/health status with all-cause mortality up until July 2015 were investigated using Cox proportional hazards regression. Results: Trajectories tended to be consistently worse for the MHO group compared to the healthy non-obese group (e.g., glucose by 0.21 (95% CI 0.09, 0.33; p < 0.001) mmol/L at 20-years of follow-up). Consequently, the MHO group had a greater risk of mortality (hazard ratio 2.11 (1.24, 3.58; p = 0.006)) when the referent group comprised a random sample of healthy non-obese individuals. This estimate, however, attenuated (1.34 (0.85, 2.13; p = 0.209)) when the referent group was matched to the MHO group on baseline risk factors. Conclusions: Worse baseline risk factors may explain any difference in mortality risk between obese and non-obese groups both labelled as healthy, further challenging the concept of MHO.
This work was supported by the UK Medical Research Council (WJ New Investigator Research Grant: MR/P023347/1).
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