New Study Finds Strong Link Between Body Mass Index and Gastroesophageal Reflux in Women

in Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Medicine
May 31st, 2006

Contact: Kristen Perfetuo, 617-638-8491 |

(Boston) – New findings from the Boston-based Nurses’ Health Study reveal a strong link between Body Mass Index (BMI) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in women.

The study, which appears in the June 1, 2006, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the risk of GERD symptoms, such as heartburn and acid reflux, rises with BMI in both normal-weight and overweight women.

GERD is a common disorder, affecting up to 60 percent of people at some point during the course of a year, and 20 to 30 percent of people at least weekly. Several studies have shown a positive association between elevated BMI – the measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both men and women – and symptoms of GERD.

Researchers from Boston University Medical Center (BUMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center studied the results of a questionnaire sent to more than 10,500 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study to determine the frequency, severity and duration of symptoms of GERD. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed reported having symptoms of GERD at least once a week, and 59-percent of those who had symptoms described their symptoms as moderate to severe.

“We found that the risk for having symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux rises progressively with increasing BMI, even among normal-weight persons,” said Brian Jacobson, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. “This seems true for all degrees of symptom severity and duration, as well as for nighttime symptoms.”

According to Jacobson, the positive association between BMI and symptoms of GERD was not altered significantly after controlling for multiple factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, diabetes, dietary habits and use of various medications. Moreover, weight gain was associated with an increased risk of GERD symptoms, while weight loss was associated with a decreased risk, even among study participants considered to be normal weight at baseline.

“Our findings are of particular concern given recent trends of rising BMI in the United States among both adults and children,” explained Jacobson.

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