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by Dr. David Borenstein, Medically Reviewed by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 4/2022

The Centers For Disease Control released new data from a  health survey of 5000 U.S. adults. This study measured height and weight. From 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30% to 42% and the prevalence of severe obesity in increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. Obesity is measured by the body mass index, or BMI, BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height. A BMI of 25 or greater is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 and above is obese, and a BMI or above is severely obese.

The survey results are from a small group of individuals but the trends are significant The nation is getting heavier. In general, obesity is associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But is obesity associated with low back pain?

Obesity has been implicated as a cause of back pain but epidemiologic studies have reported both positive and negative results. A study from Denmark of 29,424 identical twin subjects revealed a modest positive association with increased BMI and low back pain of increased duration. In other words, obesity may not cause low back pain but it is harder to resolve if you are obese. Another study looking at genetic factors, revealed a causal relationship between BMI and chronic low back pain.

In general, the population of the USA is too heavy. The obesity rate has risen 40% in the last 20 years. We need to eat less and get exercise by pushing ourselves away from the table.

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  1. LeBoeuf-Yde C, Kyvik KO, Bruun NH. Low back pain and lifestyle. II. Obesity. Information from a population –based sample of 29,424 twin subjects. Spine 1999; 24:779-783
  2. Elgaeva EE, et al. ISSLS Prize in Clinical Science 2020. Examining causal effects of body mass index on back pain: A Mendelian randomization study. Eur Spine J 2019 Dec 3. Doi. 10.1007/s00586-019-06224-6

David Borenstein, MD
Executive Editor