Evidence that obesity risk factor potencies are weight dependent, a phenomenon that may explain accelerated weight gain in western societies

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Background: We have shown that individuals at the highest percentiles of the body mass index (BMI) distribution (i.e., most overweight) experience greater increases in body weight from sedentary lifestyle than those from the lowest percentiles. The purpose of the current analyses was to assess whether recent, accelerated increases in obesity could potentially be due to increased vulnerability to obesity risk factors as the population has become more overweight. Methodology/Principal Findings: Quantile regression was used to compare BMI population percentiles to obesity risk factors (lower education, diets characterized by high-meat/low-fruit content, parental adiposity) in two independent samples of men (N 1 = 3,513, N 2 = 11,365) and women (N 1 = 15,809, N 2 = 10,159). The samples were subsets of the National Walkers' (Study 1) and Runners' (Study 2) Health Studies whose physical activities fell short of nationally recommended activity levels. The data were adjusted for age, race, and any residual effects of physical activity. The regression slopes for BMI vs. education, diet, and family history became progressively stronger from the lowest (e.g., 5 th, 6 th...) to the highest (e.g.,..., 94 th, 95 th) BMI percentiles. Compared to the 10 th BMI percentile, their effects on the 90 th BMI percentile were: 1) 2.7- to 8.6-fold greater in women and 2.0- to 2.4-fold greater in men for education; 2) 3.6- to 4.8-fold greater in women and 1.7- to 2.7-fold greater in men for diet; and 3) 2.0- to 2.6-fold greater in women and 1.7-fold greater in men for family history. Conclusions/Significance: Thus we propose risk factors that produce little weight gain in lean individuals may become more potent with increasing adiposity. This leads us to hypothesize that an individual's obesity is itself a major component of their obesogenic environment, and that, the cycle of weight gain and increased sensitivity to obesity risk factors may partly explain recent increases in obesity in western societies.




Williams, P. T. (2011). Evidence that obesity risk factor potencies are weight dependent, a phenomenon that may explain accelerated weight gain in western societies. PLoS ONE, 6(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027657

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