High altitudes may lower obesity risk

People who live at higher altitudes – at least 1,500 feet above sea level – are less likely to become overweight or obese than people who live at lower altitudes, according to a new study.

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The study included more than 9,300 Spanish university graduates divided into three groups based on their homes’ altitude: below 407 feet (low), 407 to 1,496 feet (medium), and above 1,496 feet (high). None of the participants were overweight or obese at the beginning of the study.

Over a median follow-up period of 8.5 years, almost 2,100 of the participants became overweight or obese. Even after accounting for factors such as diet and physical activity, the participants who lived at high altitudes were 13 percent less likely to become overweight or obese than those who lived at low altitudes. However, the study was not designed to show that living at a certain altitude can cause changes in weight.

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"Living in cities of higher altitude was associated with a lower risk of developing overweight or obesity in a cohort of Spanish university graduates,” said study researcher Maira Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra. "While it might not be realistic to expect everyone to move further uphill to reduce obesity levels, it is encouraging to see this effect occurred at only 450 meters altitude.”

The study was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague, Czech Republic Thursday, but the findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that people who live at high altitudes have less risk of dying from heart disease and have longer life spans. The study suggested that living in lower oxygen mountain environment and closer to the sun may have definite health benefits. Colorado, the highest altitude state in the country, has the fewest deaths from heart disease and lower rates of colon and lung cancer.

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