A large scale study has demonstrated a link between obesity and pain — with higher rates of pain reported by the heaviest individuals.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York analyzed the responses of over a million people who were surveyed by telephone by the Gallop Organization between 2008 and 2010. They calculated the body mass index (BMI) for each respondent based on their height and weight, then compared the BMI to their answers about pain, including one question that asked if they “experienced pain yesterday.”
“We found that ‘pain yesterday’ was definitely more common among people with diseases that cause bodily pain,” said Joan Broderick, PhD, one of the study’s co-authors and an assistant professor in Stony Brook’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. “Even so, when we controlled for these specific diseases, the weight-pain relationship held up. This finding suggests that obesity alone may cause pain, aside from the presence of painful diseases.”
Sixty three percent of those surveyed by Gallup were classified as either overweight or obese. Compared to individuals with low to normal weight, the overweight group reported 20 percent higher rates of pain. The severity of pain was even greater for obese individuals, ranging from 68% to 254% depending on the level of obesity.
“Our findings confirm and extend earlier studies about the link between obesity and pain,” said Arthur Stone, PhD, a professor and vice chair of the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stony Brook. “These findings hold true after we accounted for several common pain conditions and across gender and age.”
There could be several explanations for the relationship between obesity and pain. Medical conditions that cause pain, such as arthritis, could result in reduced levels of activity that contribute to weight gain. Excess fat in the body could also trigger inflammation and pain or lead to depression and a sedentary lifestyle. The Stony Brook study also showed that as people get older, excess weight is associated with more pain.
Broderick and Stone say further research is needed into the causes of pain, as well as the link between obesity and pain. Their study was recently published in the journal Obesity.