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16/01/2018 - Press release

Obesity and overweight multiply the risk of suffering cancer and heart disease

The data is the result of the largest Spanish study ever in this field, involving a 10-year follow up of 54,000 people from 7 autonomic communities

Being overweight or obese exponentially increases the risk of suffering heart disease or cancer. This is the conclusion of the FRESCO (Spanish Risk Function of Coronary and Other Events) study, led by researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and doctors from Hospital del Mar, who analysed the follow up of 54,446 people from 7 autonomic communities over a ten-year period. The work involved various research groups from Barcelona, Girona, Reus, Palma de Mallorca, Zaragoza, Murcia, Pamplona, Seville, and Talavera de la Reina.

The results of the study are clear. The obesity epidemic has a greater impact on women. In fact, women are 5 five times more likely to suffer a cardiovascular disease, and have 12 times greater risk of developing cancer than those of normal weight, Being overweight, even if this does not reach obesity levels, still involves twice the risk of heart disease and four times the risk of cancer.

Weight influences male health to a much lesser degree. For men, obesity doubles their likelihood of getting some type of cancer, but it does not have a significant influence on cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Maria Grau, one of the authors of the study and a researcher in the IMIM's Epidemiology and Cardiovascular Genetics group, explains it has become clear that "any increment in body mass above recommended levels supposes a proportional increase in the risk of adverse health events."

Only 26% of the population has a normal weight.

Of the 54,000 people who participated in the study, which included men and women aged 35 to 79, more than 25,000 were overweight and 15,000 were obese. That means only 26% had what is considered to be a normal weight (below a body mass index (BMI) of 25). It is the first time that the State has analysed such an important group, screening out the possible effects of other pathologies linked to weight, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and hypercholesterolaemia.

The researchers think the results of the work are very worrying. Dr. Jaume Marrugat, principal investigator of the study and director of the IMIM's Epidemiology and Public Health group, stresses that it is necessary "to find strategies for promoting a healthy diet, doing physical activity, screening for diseases, and establishing prevention policies that affect the entire population, in order to help decrease the prevalence of obesity." In this sense, he made it clear that "the improvements in cardiovascular risk factors achieved over the last 20 years, are dramatically neutralised by the obesity epidemic."

Beyond looks - a new epidemic

Dr. Albert Goday, an endocrinologist at Hospital del Mar and one of the authors of the study, reminds us that “no-one is obese because they want to be.” "Obesity is a potentially serious medical condition that determines, in apparently healthy people, an increased risk of death from various causes", he remarks. This situation "goes beyond looks and means we should adopt preventive measures and treatment that are not always easy to follow." Despite this, he points out that if the obese patient "is able to decrease their level of obesity, the risk of death decreases." To achieve this, the treatment is based on lifestyle, modifying dietary habits and increasing physical activity. Small weight reductions result in huge health benefits. In a country where the average life expectancy is 80, overweight people who lose 5 kilos in their 40s and do not put it back on, reduce their risk of suffering cardiovascular disease by 20%. For women this also involves a 20% reduction in the risk of suffering cancer.

The World Health Organisation estimates that obesity affects more than 650 million people across the globe. Their number has tripled since 1975, and in 2016 there were 41 million children under 5 who were overweight or obese. In addition, it is linked to pathologies such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and cancer. Childhood obesity is associated with a greater probability of premature death and disability in adulthood.


Barroso M, Goday A, Ramos R, Marín-Ibañez A, Guembe MJ, Rigo F, Tormo-Díaz MJ, Moreno-Iribas C, Cabré JJ, Segura A, Baena-Díez JM, Gómez de la Cámara A, Lapetra J, Quesada M, Medrano MJ, Berjón J, Frontera G, Gavrila D, Barricarte A, Basora J, García JM, García-Lareo M, Lora-Pablos D, Mayoral E, Grau M*, Marrugat J*, FRESCO Investigators. Interaction between cardiovascular risk factors and body mass index and 10-year incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer death, and overall mortality. Prev Med 2017

The researchers involved in this study are also members of CIBER Cardiovascular Diseases (CIBERCV), CIBER Pathophysiology of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN), and CIBER Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP).

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