To investigate the association of being overweight or obese with the presence, extent, and severity of lumbar disc degeneration on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in adults.


A population-based cross-sectional study of 2,599 southern Chinese volunteers was conducted. Subjects underwent radiographic and clinical assessment, and weight and height were measured. Sagittal T2-weighted MRIs of the lumbar spine were obtained. The presence, extent, and severity of disc degeneration and additional radiographic and clinical parameters were assessed. Asian-modified body mass index (BMI) (kg/m2) categories were used. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were calculated.


The study included 1,040 men and 1,559 women (mean age 41.9 years). Disc degeneration was noted in 1,890 subjects (72.7%). BMI was significantly higher in subjects with disc degeneration (mean 23.3 kg/m2) than in subjects without degeneration (mean 21.7 kg/m2) (P < 0.001). A significant increase in the number of degenerated levels (P < 0.001), global severity of disc degeneration (P < 0.001), and end-stage disc degeneration with disc space narrowing (P < 0.001) was noted with elevated BMI, in particular in overweight and obese subjects. In the adjusted multivariate logistic regression model, there was a positive linear trend (r2 = 0.99) between BMI and the overall presence of disc degeneration in overweight (OR 1.30 [95% CI 1.03–1.62]) and obese (OR 1.79 [95% CI 1.17–2.74]) subjects. End-stage disc degeneration with disc space narrowing was significantly more pronounced in obese subjects (adjusted OR 1.72 [95% CI 1.23–2.41] [reference normal weight]).


Our findings, in one of the largest studies to systematically assess lumbar disc degeneration on MRI, indicated a significant association between the presence, extent, and global severity of disc degeneration with weight in overweight and obese adults.