The Link Between Home Altitude and Obesity

By: Dr. Alwyn Wong | Obesity | Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 09:35 AM

Obesity rat133518790es in the United States are at an astonishing level with about one third of Americans being overweight or obese. There are a variety of factors that contribute to weight gain and ultimately obesity, including consuming diets that are high in sugar and fat and living sedentary lifestyles, but new research in Reuters Health is showing that living at a low altitude may also be an obesity risk factor.

Home Altitude and Obesity Risk – The Study

Researchers wanted to look at obesity rates at different altitude levels so they combined information from a variety of sources, and analyzed data from over 400,000 individuals living at a variety of altitudes. The researchers used body mass index as a measure of obesity. A normal (health) BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9. 236 of the individuals in the study lived at a high altitude, of at least 3,000 meters above sea level.

What is the Difference for People at Higher Altitude?

These individuals all lived in Colorado and it was found that they were less likely to smoke, and were more likely to eat healthier and exercise more. Individuals living at this high altitude had a BMI of 24.2. The researchers also had information on 322,681 people that lived in lower altitude regions that were less than 500 meters above sea level. These individuals had a BMI of 26.6 which was significantly higher than those living at a higher altitude.

The researchers found that for every 200 meters of altitude elevation, the risk of obesity dropped. The researchers concluded that individuals living closest to sea level were four to five times more likely to suffer from obesity when compared to individuals living at a higher altitude such as in Colorado. The findings from this research suggest that living at low altitude may be a possibly obesity risk factor.

Altitude Helps to Control Weight Gain and Obesity

The researchers report that living at a higher altitude can affect hormones that are responsible for appetite, growth and metabolism rates. The effects of high altitude on the body may help to prevent weight gain by suppressing appetite and increasing metabolism.

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While the results of this research shows that altitude and obesity are related, additional research is needed to determine if the effects that are seen are consistent across all high altitude regions. One concern with this current research was that all of the participants in this study that were living at a high altitude were from Colorado. While altitude definitely has an effect on the obesity, it is possible that people that live in Colorado tend to live healthier lifestyles and that may be the major factor in the lower levels of obesity that are seen.

The Real Obesity Risk Factors

There are a many obesity risk factors that we can control including living a healthier lifestyle by eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. Although the researchers caution that this research is not a reason to move to a high altitude area, if you’re overly concerned about obesity, choosing to living in a high altitude region may possibly help to reduce your risk of obesity.


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