(Vienna, 25 February 2022) Obesity is an increasingly common chronic disease worldwide and has a serious impact on the cardiovascular system. A research team led by Gerhard Prager, Head of the Obesity Outpatient Clinic at MedUni Vienna's Department of General Surgery, has now conducted a long-term study using the health data of 18-year-old young men at the army physical of the Austrian Armed Forces and found that the prevalence of overweight has increased and that obesity classes 2 and 3, in particular, have increased disproportionately. As a consequence, this also means an increase in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as reduced life expectancy. Moreover, a significant correlation was found between increased BMI and a lower level of education and lower socioeconomic status. The study was published in the journal Obesity Surgery.
Overweight and obesity are among the most significant health problems in industrialised countries. According to Statistics Austria, 3.7 million people over the age of 15 are overweight in Austria, and about 17% of them are already classed as obese. Even by the age of eight, one in three boys and one in four girls is already overweight or obese. A team led by abdominal surgeon Gerhard Prager, Professor of Bariatric Surgery and Head of the Obesity Outpatient Clinic at MedUni Vienna's Department of General Surgery, analysed the health data of male recruits between 2003 and 2018.
One quarter of young men medically unfit or only partially fit due to obesity
The analysis was based on the height and weight measurements of 874,220 young men at the army physical, which were used to determine their body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-height ratio. It was found that the average BMI had increased from 22.0 ± 3.95 kg/m2 in 2003 to 22.8 ± 4.69 kg/m2 in 2018. Overweight and obesity classes I-III increased from 15.3%, 4.2%, 1.2%, and 0.4% (2003) to 20.4%, 7.1%, 2.5%, and 0.8% (2018) respectively. A total of 25.7% of the young men were classed as medically unfit or only partially fit for military service.
In summary, the study found that BMI, and hence the associated risk of cardiovascular disease, has risen steadily in Austrian male adolescents over the past 15 years. A significant shift was observed from normal weight to overweight, while higher classes of obesity doubled during this observation period. In addition, there was also a significant correlation between BMI, smoking and lower educational status.
Obesity is a serious disease
Gerhard Prager: "The problem is that adolescents carry obesity with them through into adulthood. The longer you are severely overweight, the more likely you are to develop secondary diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and lipid metabolism disorders." The higher the BMI, the higher the number of comorbidities. Another problem is that obesity "is still not seen as a serious chronic disease but rather as a lifestyle issue," Prager added. People who are obese find it very difficult to lose weight permanently by means of exercise and reducing their food intake. A step-by-step treatment plan is followed, explained Prager. First, he said, people try to change their lifestyle, which would allow them to lose five to ten percent of their weight in the long term. The next stage is drug therapy, which achieves a 15% weight loss in the medium term. Says Prager: "There are highly effective medications available, but these are not currently covered by health insurance schemes. That needs to change." He explained that, as far as surgeons are concerned, another thing that needs to change is that an individual approval is required for Class III surgery, involving an operation to reduce abdominal circumference.
Prager is essentially calling for obesity to be recognised as a social problem and a disease that has serious consequences. He emphasises that everyone needs to change their lifestyle to incorporate more physical exercise: "We spend too much time sitting down. Sitting is the new smoking."
MedUni Vienna online event on World Obesity Day on 04 March
To mark World Obesity Day on 04 March 2022, MedUni Vienna experts and obesity sufferers will be offering expert first-hand information and suggesting solutions on how to maintain or regain health and quality-of-life. Specialists will explore the interplay between obesity and hormones, and new treatment options will be discussed, ranging from diets to drug treatments through to bariatric surgery. There will also be two presentations on the subject of obesity in adolescents, as well as the relationship between obesity and severe courses of COVID-19.
Further information: https://www.meduniwien.ac.at/adipositastag
Service: Obesity Surgery
Trends of Overweight and Obesity in Male Adolescents: Prevalence,
Socioeconomic Status, and Impact on Cardiovascular Risk in a Central
Lisa Gensthaler, Daniel M. Felsenreich, Julia Jedamzik, Jakob Eichelter, Larissa Nixdorf, Christoph Bichler, Michael Krebs, Bianca Itariu, Felix B. Langer, Gerhard Prager