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Obesity associated with increased risk of acute respiratory infections: ICES study

May 4, 2013 Toronto

Being overweight increases a person’s risk for respiratory infection, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). The findings suggest that increased body mass index (BMI) may enhance susceptibility to viral and bacterial pathogens that can cause acute respiratory infection (ARI) syndromes such as the common cold, influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis.

“Obesity is already emphasized as a public health concern due to its contribution to the burden of chronic diseases, specifically diabetes and coronary artery disease. However, the results of this study suggest interventions to lessen obesity may have the added benefit of reducing acute respiratory infections in the community,” says Michael Campitelli, lead author and epidemiologist at ICES.

“The researchers estimated that roughly 60,000 ARI outpatient visits a year across the province were attributable to obesity during the study period.”

The retrospective cohort study over 13 years on 104,665 individuals aged 18-64 years in Ontario who responded to population health surveys and agreed to linkage with health administrative data found:

  • Higher BMI was associated with a higher risk of physician visits for acute respiratory infections (ARI) during both influenza and non-influenza seasons.
  • Severely obese individuals (BMI >=35) visited their physician for ARI during influenza seasons nearly 20 per cent more than normal weight individuals (BMI 18.5-24.9).
  • Obesity was a greater risk factor for ARI managed in emergency departments than physician offices.

“After accounting for previous health care utilization patterns and other important factors, obese individuals were still at a higher risk of physician visits for acute respiratory infections during flu and non-flu season periods, which suggests that the effect of obesity on the risk of respiratory infections is not limited to influenza,” says Campitelli.

The study “The association between obesity and outpatient visits for acute respiratory infections in Ontario, Canada” was published online in the International Journal of Obesity.

Authors: Michael A. Campitelli, Laura C. Rosella, Jeffrey C. Kwong

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.

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