Objectives. The prevalence of obesity is increasing. Overweight and obese people have increased mortality compared with normal weight people. We investigated the effect of weight change on mortality.
Design. Prospective population study.
Setting. We utilized data from two large population-based health studies conducted in 1984–86 and 1995–97 respectively. Cox proportional hazards models were used to calculate mortality rate ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) between people with a stable weight and people who lost or gained weight.
Subjects. Totally 20 542 men and 23 712 women aged 20 years or more, without cardiovascular disease or diabetes at the first survey and without a history of cancer at the second survey were followed up on all-cause mortality for 5 years after the second survey.
Results. We found no association between weight gain and mortality. People who lost weight had a higher total mortality rate compared with those who were weight stable [RR was 1.6 (95% CI: 1.4–1.8) in men and 1.7 (95% CI: 1.5–2.0) in women]. Similar associations were found for cardiovascular and noncardiovascular mortality. Additional analysis showed a linear increase in mortality rates across categories of weight loss for both men and women (P < 0.001). There was a statistically significant interaction between weight change and initial BMI, but only amongst men (P = 0.001).
Conclusions. Weight loss, but not weight gain, was associated with increased mortality amongst men and women. Although underlying undiagnosed disease is the most plausible explanation for this finding, the similar associations found for total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and noncardiovascular mortality makes the causal pathway somewhat enigmatic.