Obesity is associated with a significantly increased risk for abnormal bowel habits, according to a recent analysis of a nationally representative sample of the US adult population.
Obesity is known to increase patients’ risk for other health conditions (eg, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, liver disease, diabetes), but less is known about the relationship between obesity and abnormal bowel movements.
Previous studies on this topic have lacked information on confounding factors that independently impact bowel habits. Because of this, researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, and normal).
The analysis controlled for dietary, lifestyle, psychological factors, and medical conditions.
"While several previous studies have pointed to an association between obesity and bowel habits, all lacked data on whether dietary or other factors drive the connection,” lead author Sarah Ballou, PhD, health psychologist, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Boston, Massachusetts, said in a BIDMC press release. “Our research confirms a positive association between obesity and chronic diarrhea and reveals for the first time that this relationship is not driven by confounding factors such as diet or physical activity level.”
The findings, published September 18 in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, have important implications for how physicians might approach and treat symptoms of diarrhea in patients with obesity.
Using the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers analyzed the bowel health questionnaire responses of 5 126 patients aged >20 years with no prior history of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or colon cancer.
Ballou and colleagues compared the reported bowel habits of patients who had a BMI associated with being underweight (1.4%), normal weight (26.34%), overweight (33.77%), obese (21.4%), and severely obese (17.13%).