Obesity can shorten lives, but obese people who are hospitalised for infectious diseases, pneumonia and sepsis have a better chance of surviving than those who are of normal weight, according to new research.
The so-called “obesity paradox” was illustrated by three separate presentations at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. A study of more than 18,000 people admitted to hospital with an infectious disease in Denmark found those who were overweight were 40% less likely to die, and those who were obese 50% less likely to die, than those of normal weight.
A second study using data from 1.7m hospital admissions for pneumonia in the United States in 2013 to 2014 found that overweight patients were 23% more likely to survive and obese patients 29% more likely to survive than those of normal weight.
Other data from the US in patients with sepsis – blood poisoning – found a similar pattern. In more than three million hospital admissions, overweight patients were 23% less likely to die and obese patients 22% less likely to die than those of normal weight.
Sigrid Gribsholt from Aarhus University hospital department of clinical epidemiology in Denmark led the research in the first study, on people admitted with infectious diseases during 2011-2015 in the Central Denmark Region. They looked at the risk of death within 90 days of entering hospital and made allowances for people who smoked or had other medical conditions.
Gribsholt said there were two reasons obese people might be more likely to survive. One is that obesity causes inflammation which invokes a strong response from the immune system – which could help people recover from infection. The second is that people who are obese are less likely to experience wasting as a result of their disease. “They have larger energy reserves, which may also be protective,” she said.
Obesity is linked to as many as 12 different forms of cancer, according to a major new report which advises giving up bacon and swapping sugary drinks for water as part of a 10-point plan for avoiding the disease.
Up to 40% of cancers are preventable, says the World Cancer Research Fund, launching its updated report on the reasons for the global spread. While smoking is still the biggest cause of cancer, WCRF says obesity will overtake it within a couple of decades in countries like the UK. The fund advises that our unhealthy modern lifestyle – and the promotion of junk food – has to end if people are to avoid the disease.
Watching screens, whether computers at work or the TV at home, is bad for adults and children because it is sedentary. Physical activity, including walking, is protective. Processed meats and too much red meat are linked to bowel and other forms of cancer. Sugary drinks cause people to put on weight. Alcohol is also calorific and linked to bowel, breast, liver, mouth and throat, oesophagus and stomach cancers.
Individuals can help reduce their cancer risk by living a healthy life, but governments have a responsibility too, it says. Public health policies and regulations that reduce the advertising and marketing and discounting of junk and processed foods and make it easier to walk, cycle and be active are vital, the report says.
Prof Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “This report supports what we already know – the key to cutting cancer risk is through our way of life. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating and drinking healthily and getting more active all helps. A bacon butty or glass of wine every so often isn’t anything to worry about, it’s the things you do every day that matter most. Building small changes into your daily life, like choosing sugar-free drinks or walking more, can add up to a big difference for your health.” She also called on the government to act to curb junk food marketing.
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