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Int J Epidemiol. 2008 Oct;37(5):990-1004. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyn059. Epub 2008 Apr 3.

Body mass index, weight change and mortality risk in a prospective study in India.

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Screening Group, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.



Although the detrimental effect of overweight and obesity has been extensively reported in Western populations, little is known on the association between body weight, weight change and mortality in Asian populations whose weight distribution and mortality differ considerably from the West.


A cohort of 75 868 subjects aged 35 years and above, participants of the Trivandrum Oral Cancer Study-a cluster-randomized controlled trial originally implemented to evaluate the efficacy of visual inspection on oral cancer, in Kerala State, South India-were followed up from 1995 to 2004. Weight and height were measured both at baseline and in 3.5-year follow-up surveys. Early years of follow-up were excluded from the analyses. Relative risks of overall death and cause-specific death were estimated according to the body mass index (BMI) category of the WHO Asian population definitions, and to weight changes between two surveys.


Low BMI was a predictor of mortality, while high BMI was not. Mortality risks in men adjusted for age, smoking habits and other potential confounders, as compared with a BMI 18.5-22.9 kg/m(2), were 1.26 (95% CI 1.03-1.55) for BMI < 16 kg/m(2); 1.16 (1.03-1.32) for BMI = 16-18.4 kg/m(2); 0.95 (0.81-1.12) for BMI = 23-24.9 kg/m(2); 0.85 (0.69-1.05) for BMI = 25-27.4 kg/m(2); and 0.89 (0.65-1.21) for BMI >/= 27.5 kg/m(2). Similar findings were observed in women. BMI was not associated with deaths from cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes. A low BMI (<16 kg/m(2)) was associated with increased deaths from chronic respiratory diseases. Smoking and socio-economical status did modify the association. A moderate weight gain of 4-10% between the two surveys was associated with decreased risk of death, while moderate and severe weight loss were predictive factors of death. Similar results were observed in both men and women.


Among this Indian rural population, mild to severe leanness (BMI < 16 kg/m(2)) and weight loss were important determinants of mortality, especially from chronic respiratory diseases, while overweight and above (BMI > 23 kg/m(2)) did not show any detrimental effect.

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