Overweight, Obese Adults Have More Lumbar Disk Degeneration

February 23, 2012

Disk degeneration is significantly more likely to occur in adults who are overweight or obese than in those who have a normal body mass index (BMI), a study found.

Disk degeneration is significantly more likely to occur in adults who are overweight or obese than in those who have a normal body mass index (BMI), a study found. A high BMI is associated with an increased number of levels of degenerated disks and a greater severity of disk degeneration, including narrowing of the disk space, according to assessments with MRI.

Researchers studied 2599 men and women aged 21 years and older from diverse social and economic backgrounds in southern China who were recruited regardless of whether they had low back pain. They conducted radiographic and clinical assessments, and MRI scans of the lumbar spine were obtained for all patients.

Disk degeneration was seen in 73% of patients. The prevalence of degeneration was significantly higher in men than in women (76% vs 71%), and it was shown to increase with increasing age. In the study group, BMI assessments showed that 7% of the patients were underweight, 48% were in the normal weight range, 36% were overweight, and 9% were obese.

The investigators suggested that with weight gain, physical loading on the disk or chronic low-grade inflammation from fat cells may play a role in disk degeneration. They recommended that future studies that investigate risk factors for disk degeneration take into account the impact of overweight and obesity on the disease. Study details appear in Arthritis Care & Research, an American College of Rheumatology journal.