Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Chronic disease burden associated with overweight and obesity in Ireland: the effects of a small BMI reduction at population level

Karen Kearns15*, Anne Dee2, Anthony P Fitzgerald14, Edel Doherty3 and Ivan J Perry1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

2 HSE Department of Public Health, Mount Kennett House, Henry Street, Limerick, Ireland

3 J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland

4 Department of Statistics, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

5 Healthcare Pricing Office, ESRI Building, Whitaker Square, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:143  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-143

Published: 10 February 2014



Overweight and obesity prevalence has risen dramatically in recent decades. While it is known that overweight and obesity is associated with a wide range of chronic diseases, the cumulative burden of chronic disease in the population associated with overweight and obesity is not well quantified. The aims of this paper were to examine the associations between BMI and chronic disease prevalence; to calculate Population Attributable Fractions (PAFs) associated with overweight and obesity; and to estimate the impact of a one unit reduction in BMI on the population prevalence of chronic disease.


A cross-sectional analysis of 10,364 adults aged ≥18 years from the Republic of Ireland National Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN 2007) was performed. Using binary regression, we examined the relationship between BMI and the selected chronic diseases. In further analyses, we calculated PAFs of selected chronic diseases attributable to overweight and obesity and we assessed the impact of a one unit reduction in BMI on the overall burden of chronic disease.


Overweight and obesity prevalence was higher in men (43.0% and 16.1%) compared to women (29.2% and 13.4%), respectively. The most prevalent chronic conditions were lower back pain, hypertension, and raised cholesterol. Prevalence of chronic disease generally increased with increasing BMI. Compared to normal weight persons, the strongest associations were found in obese women for diabetes (RR 3.9, 95% CI 2.5-6.3), followed by hypertension (RR 2.9, 95% CI 2.3-3.6); and in obese men for hypertension (RR 2.1, 95% CI 1.6-2.7), followed by osteoarthritis (RR 2.0, 95% CI 1.2-3.2). Calculated PAFs indicated that a large proportion of chronic disease is attributable to increased BMI, most noticeably for diabetes in women (42%) and for hypertension in men (30%). Overall, a one unit decrease in BMI results in 26 and 28 fewer cases of chronic disease per 1,000 men and women, respectively.


Overweight and obesity are major contributors to the burden of chronic disease in the population. The achievement of a relatively modest reduction in average BMI in the population has the potential to make a significant impact on the burden of chronic disease.

Overweight; Obesity; BMI; Burden; Chronic disease; Prevalence; Population attributable fraction