BMJ Open 5:e008105 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008105
  • Epidemiology
    • Research

Body mass index in early and middle adult life: prospective associations with myocardial infarction, stroke and diabetes over a 30-year period: the British Regional Heart Study

  1. Peter H Whincup1
  1. 1Population Health Research Institute, St George's, University of London, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Primary Care and Population Health, UCL Medical School, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Christopher G Owen; cowen{at}
  • Received 5 March 2015
  • Revised 16 July 2015
  • Accepted 24 July 2015
  • Published 15 September 2015


Objectives Adiposity in middle age is an established risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; less is known about the impact of adiposity from early adult life. We examined the effects of high body mass index (BMI) in early and middle adulthood on myocardial infarction (MI), stroke and diabetes risks.

Design A prospective cohort study.

Participants 7735 men with BMI measured in middle age (40–59 years) and BMI ascertained at 21 years from military records or participant recall.

Primary and secondary outcome measures 30-year follow-up data for type 2 diabetes, MI and stroke incidence; Cox proportional hazards models were used to examine the effect of BMI at both ages on these outcomes, adjusted for age and smoking status.

Results Among 4846 (63%) men (with complete data), a 1 kg/m2 higher BMI at 21 years was associated with a 6% (95% CI 4% to 9%) higher type 2 diabetes risk, compared with a 21% (95% CI 18% to 24%) higher diabetes risk for a 1 kg/m2 higher BMI in middle age (hazard ratio (HR) 1.21, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.24). Higher BMI in middle age was associated with a 6% (95% CI 4% to 8%) increase in MI and a 4% (95% CI 1% to 7%) increase in stroke; BMI at 21 years showed no associations with MI or stroke risk.

Conclusions Higher BMI at 21 years of age is associated with later diabetes incidence but not MI or stroke, while higher BMI in middle age is strongly associated with all outcomes. Early obesity prevention may reduce later type 2 diabetes risk, more than MI and stroke.

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