The objectives of this meta-analysis were to examine the magnitude of the relative risk (RR) of developing type 2 diabetes for overweight and obese populations, compared to those with normal weight, and to determine causes of the variation in RR between various cohort studies. The magnitude of the RR was analyzed by combining 18 prospective cohort studies that matched defined criteria. The variance in RR between studies was explored. The overall RR of diabetes for obese persons compared to those with normal weight was 7.19, 95% CI: 5.74, 9.00 and for overweight was 2.99, 95% CI: 2.42, 3.72. The variation in RR among studies was explored and it was found that the effect of heterogeneity was highly related with sample size, method of assessment of body mass index (BMI) and method of ascertainment of type 2 diabetes. By combining only cohort studies with more than 400 cases of incident diabetes (>median), adjusted by at least three main confounding variables (age, family history of type 2 diabetes, physical activity), measured BMI, and diabetes determined by clinical diagnosis, the RR was 7.28, 95% CI: 6.47, 8.28 for obesity and 2.92, 95% CI: 2.57, 3.32 for overweight.
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