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Association between class III obesity (BMI of 40-59 kg/m2) and mortality: a pooled analysis of 20 prospective studies.

  • Author(s): Kitahara, Cari M;
  • Flint, Alan J;
  • Berrington de Gonzalez, Amy;
  • Bernstein, Leslie;
  • Brotzman, Michelle;
  • MacInnis, Robert J;
  • Moore, Steven C;
  • Robien, Kim;
  • Rosenberg, Philip S;
  • Singh, Pramil N;
  • Weiderpass, Elisabete;
  • Adami, Hans Olov;
  • Anton-Culver, Hoda;
  • Ballard-Barbash, Rachel;
  • Buring, Julie E;
  • Freedman, D Michal;
  • Fraser, Gary E;
  • Beane Freeman, Laura E;
  • Gapstur, Susan M;
  • Gaziano, John Michael;
  • Giles, Graham G;
  • Håkansson, Niclas;
  • Hoppin, Jane A;
  • Hu, Frank B;
  • Koenig, Karen;
  • Linet, Martha S;
  • Park, Yikyung;
  • Patel, Alpa V;
  • Purdue, Mark P;
  • Schairer, Catherine;
  • Sesso, Howard D;
  • Visvanathan, Kala;
  • White, Emily;
  • Wolk, Alicja;
  • Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, Anne;
  • Hartge, Patricia
  • et al.


The prevalence of class III obesity (body mass index [BMI]≥40 kg/m2) has increased dramatically in several countries and currently affects 6% of adults in the US, with uncertain impact on the risks of illness and death. Using data from a large pooled study, we evaluated the risk of death, overall and due to a wide range of causes, and years of life expectancy lost associated with class III obesity.

Methods and findings

In a pooled analysis of 20 prospective studies from the United States, Sweden, and Australia, we estimated sex- and age-adjusted total and cause-specific mortality rates (deaths per 100,000 persons per year) and multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios for adults, aged 19-83 y at baseline, classified as obese class III (BMI 40.0-59.9 kg/m2) compared with those classified as normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9 kg/m2). Participants reporting ever smoking cigarettes or a history of chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, stroke, or emphysema) on baseline questionnaires were excluded. Among 9,564 class III obesity participants, mortality rates were 856.0 in men and 663.0 in women during the study period (1976-2009). Among 304,011 normal-weight participants, rates were 346.7 and 280.5 in men and women, respectively. Deaths from heart disease contributed largely to the excess rates in the class III obesity group (rate differences = 238.9 and 132.8 in men and women, respectively), followed by deaths from cancer (rate differences = 36.7 and 62.3 in men and women, respectively) and diabetes (rate differences = 51.2 and 29.2 in men and women, respectively). Within the class III obesity range, multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios for total deaths and deaths due to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nephritis/nephrotic syndrome/nephrosis, chronic lower respiratory disease, and influenza/pneumonia increased with increasing BMI. Compared with normal-weight BMI, a BMI of 40-44.9, 45-49.9, 50-54.9, and 55-59.9 kg/m2 was associated with an estimated 6.5 (95% CI: 5.7-7.3), 8.9 (95% CI: 7.4-10.4), 9.8 (95% CI: 7.4-12.2), and 13.7 (95% CI: 10.5-16.9) y of life lost. A limitation was that BMI was mainly ascertained by self-report.


Class III obesity is associated with substantially elevated rates of total mortality, with most of the excess deaths due to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and major reductions in life expectancy compared with normal weight. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.

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