News Release

Obesity exacerbates many causes of death, but risks are different for men and women

Obesity causes a higher risk of type 2 diabetes in women, and COPD and chronic kidney disease in men

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Obesity exacerbates many causes of death, but risks are different for men and women

image: Glucose test for diabetes. In this study, Censin et al. identify sex differences in risk of non-communicable diseases linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes. view more 

Credit: Agencia Brasil Fotografias, Flickr

People who carry around unhealthy amounts of weight don't just have heart disease and diabetes to worry about. Obesity is implicated in two thirds of the leading causes of death from non-communicable diseases worldwide and the risk of certain diseases differs for men and women. Cecilia Lindgren of the University of Oxford and colleagues report these findings in a new study published 24th October in PLOS Genetics.

As rates of obesity continue to grow worldwide, scientists have begun to suspect that excess weight might lead to or exacerbate other causes of death besides heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To identify additional causes of death made worse by obesity, researchers performed an analysis that explores cause-and-effect relationships using genetic data and three measures of obesity from 228,466 women and 195,041 men in the UK Biobank. Their analysis showed that obesity contributes to a laundry list of health problems including coronary artery disease, type 1 and 2 diabetes, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic liver disease and kidney failure. While obesity causes type 2 diabetes in both women and men, women experienced a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as compared to men, while men faced a greater risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic kidney disease.

First author, Jenny Censin, said "this study shows just how harmful carrying excess weight can be to human health, and that women and men may experience different diseases as a result." Michael Holmes, who supervised the work together with Cecilia Lindgren, said "given the compelling evidence of harm that arises as a consequence of obesity across a broad range of diseases that result in death, our findings highlight the critical need for public health measures to stem the tide of obesity."

Overall, the study finds that obesity causes or contributes to the majority of the leading causes of death worldwide that are not linked to infectious diseases. The impacts of obesity, however, manifest differently in men and women. The findings have potential implications for the design of public health strategies and suggest that different preventative measures targeted at men and women may be warranted.


Peer-reviewed; Observational study; People

In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Genetics:

Citation: Censin JC, Peters SAE, Bovijn J, Ferreira T, Pulit SL, Mägi R, et al. (2019) Causal relationships between obesity and the leading causes of death in women and men. PLoS Genet 15(10): e1008405.

Funding: JCC is funded by an NDM Prize Studentship (17/18_MSD_1108275) from the Oxford Medical Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership (Oxford MRC DTP; and the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine (, University of Oxford. SAEP is supported by a UK Medical Research Council Skills Development Fellowship (MR/P014550/1). JB is supported by funding from the Rhodes Trust (, Clarendon Fund ( and the Medical Sciences Doctoral Training Centre (, University of Oxford. TF is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford. SLP was funded by a Veni Fellowship (016.186.071; ZonMW; from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) during the course of the study. MVH works in a unit that receives funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC; and is supported by a British Heart Foundation Intermediate Clinical Research Fellowship (FS/18/23/33512; and the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre ( CML is supported by the Li Ka Shing Foundation (, WT-SSI/John Fell funds (, the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre, Oxford (, Widenlife (H2020-TWINN-2015-692065;, and National Institute of Health (NIH; 5P50HD028138-27; Computation used the Oxford Biomedical Research Computing (BMRC) facility, a joint development between the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and the Big Data Institute supported by Health Data Research UK and the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, and with financial support provided by the Wellcome Trust Core Award Grant Number 203141/Z/16/Z. The funders had not role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: SLP has, since the writing of the article, started working for Vertex. MVH has collaborated with Boehringer Ingelheim in research, and in accordance with the policy of the Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit (University of Oxford), did not accept any personal payment. CML has collaborated with Novo Nordisk and Bayer in research, and in accordance with the policy of University of Oxford, did not accept any personal payment.

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