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Obesity risk reduces at higher altitudes, researchers say

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Obesity is a complex problem with many possible triggers, and a new research has now established a potential link between this disorder and altitudes at which people live.

According to a study carried out by researchers at the University of Navarra in Spain, people living at high altitudes are significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than people who live at low altitudes.

For the study, researchers used data from yet another ongoing study of Spanish university graduates, called the SUN project. Researchers tracked progress of 9,302 graduates and none of the graduates were overweight or obese at the start of the study.

Researchers divided these 9,302 graduates into three groups based on their postcodes: The ‘low’ group included people living less than 124m above sea level; ‘medium’ group had people living between 124 and 456m above sea level, and; ‘high’ group had people living higher than 456m above sea level. The researchers also took into account the length of time each participant had been living in his or her city.

Researchers found that 2,099 people became overweight or obese during the follow-up period. On further analysis researchers found that people in the high elevation group (456m above sea level) were 13 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese compared with those in the low elevation group (less than 124m above sea level).

Researchers haven’t been able to establish why people who live at higher altitudes are less likely to be overweight or obese but one of the hypothesis is that at high altitudes the body produces more appetite suppressing hormones than at lower altitudes.

With high altitude regions having low oxygen levels, people may suffer from a condition called hypoxia wherein the body’s tissues don’t get enough oxygen to meet their needs. Hypoxia is thought to stimulate leptin production.

In a news release, the researchers said: “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 450m altitude. The results are in agreement with potential biological mechanisms that are caused by hypoxia.”