BACKGROUND: Obesity increases the risk of several chronic diseases, but the extent to which the obesity-related loss of disease-free years varies by lifestyle category and across socioeconomic groups is unclear. We estimated the number of years free from major non-communicable diseases in adults who are overweight and obese, compared with those who are normal weight.
METHODS: We pooled individual-level data on body-mass index (BMI) and non-communicable diseases from men and women with no initial evidence of these diseases in European cohort studies from the Individual-Participant-Data Meta-Analysis in Working Populations consortium. BMI was assessed at baseline (1991-2008) and non-communicable diseases (incident type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were ascertained via linkage to records from national health registries, repeated medical examinations, or self-report. Disease-free years from age 40 years to 75 years associated with underweight (BMI <18·5 kg/m2), overweight (≥25 kg/m2 to <30 kg/m2), and obesity (class I [mild] ≥30 kg/m2 to <35 kg/m2; class II-III [severe] ≥35 kg/m2) compared with normal weight (≥18·5 kg/m2 to <25 kg/m2) were estimated.
FINDINGS: Of 137 503 participants from ten studies, we excluded 6973 owing to missing data and 10 349 with prevalent disease at baseline, resulting in an analytic sample of 120 181 participants. Of 47 127 men, 211 (0·4%) were underweight, 21 468 (45·6%) normal weight, 20 738 (44·0%) overweight, 3982 (8·4%) class I obese, and 728 (1·5%) class II-III obese. The corresponding numbers among the 73 054 women were 1493 (2·0%), 44 760 (61·3%), 19 553 (26·8%), 5670 (7·8%), and 1578 (2·2%), respectively. During 1 328 873 person-years at risk (mean follow-up 11·5 years [range 6·3-18·6]), 8159 men and 8100 women developed at least one non-communicable disease. Between 40 years and 75 years, the estimated number of disease-free years was 29·3 (95% CI 28·8-29·8) in normal-weight men and 29·4 (28·7-30·0) in normal-weight women. Compared with normal weight, the loss of disease-free years in men was 1·8 (95% CI -1·3 to 4·9) for underweight, 1·1 (0·7 to 1·5) for overweight, 3·9 (2·9 to 4·9) for class I obese, and 8·5 (7·1 to 9·8) for class II-III obese. The corresponding estimates for women were 0·0 (-1·4 to 1·4) for underweight, 1·1 (0·6 to 1·5) for overweight, 2·7 (1·5 to 3·9) for class I obese, and 7·3 (6·1 to 8·6) for class II-III obese. The loss of disease-free years associated with class II-III obesity varied between 7·1 and 10·0 years in subgroups of participants of different socioeconomic level, physical activity level, and smoking habit.
INTERPRETATION: Mild obesity was associated with the loss of one in ten, and severe obesity the loss of one in four potential disease-free years during middle and later adulthood. This increasing loss of disease-free years as obesity becomes more severe occurred in both sexes, among smokers and non-smokers, the physically active and inactive, and across the socioeconomic hierarchy.
FUNDING: NordForsk, UK Medical Research Council, US National Institute on Aging, Academy of Finland, Helsinki Institute of Life Science, and Cancer Research UK.