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Durham University

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The connection between obesity and broken bones

(9 January 2019)

Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break. 

It affects over three million people in the UK, is more common with age and with unhealthy lifestyles including lack of exercise.

At Durham, our sport and exercise science researchers are studying the relationship between bone density, body weight and fractures.

Fragile bones

Our latest research shows that people who are obese have more spinal deformities and fractures compared to people whose weight is normal.

The research found that although the bones of obese people are denser, they are not as strong as they need to be based on their weight. So, the bone density is not proportionate to their body weight.

Although it is known that people who are underweight are at risk of fractures, this new study suggests that obesity also puts people at risk.

Obesity epidemic

In the study, 342 men and women aged 62 were tested for bone density, body mass index and past and prevalent vertebral fractures.

There are a number of reasons why obese people may be at a higher risk of spine deformities or fracture more easily or more often.

Our researchers say it could be because people who are obese may not be as stable on their feet and fall more easily. When they do fall, the impact of the fall is greater due to their weight. Spinal compression deformities can also occur from sustained heavy pressure on the spine.

Obesity is now a global epidemic and rates have more than doubled since 1980. In the UK, 26 per cent of adults are classed as obese. It is well known that being obese can have serious health implications such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. 

This study suggests obesity may also increase the risk of fractures.

Find out more

  • Read the full research paper
  • Find out more about the work of Dr Karen Hind 
  • The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Leeds, Newcastle University and Durham University
  • Have a look at undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham

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