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Do the associations of body mass index and waist circumference with back pain change as people age? 32 years of follow-up in a British birth cohort

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel CooperORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Objectives To investigate whether cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) with back pain change with age and extend into later life. Design British birth cohort study. Setting England, Scotland and Wales. Participants Up to 3426 men and women from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development. Primary outcome measures Back pain (sciatica, lumbago or recurring/severe backache all or most of the time) was self-reported during nurse interviews at ages 36, 43, 53 and 60-64 years and in a postal questionnaire using a body manikin at age 68. Results Findings from mixed-effects logistic regression models indicated that higher BMI was consistently associated with increased odds of back pain across adulthood. Sex-adjusted ORs of back pain per 1 SD increase in BMI were: 1.13 (95% CI: 1.01 to 1.26), 1.11 (95% CI: 1.00 to 1.23), 1.17 (95% CI: 1.05 to 1.30), 1.31 (95% CI: 1.15 to 1.48) and 1.08 (95% CI: 0.95 to 1.24) at ages 36, 43, 53, 60-64 and 68-69, respectively. Similar patterns of associations were observed for WC. These associations were maintained when potential confounders, including education, occupational class, height, cigarette smoking status, physical activity and symptoms of anxiety and depression were accounted for. BMI showed stronger associations than WC in models including both measures. Conclusions These findings demonstrate that higher BMI is a persistent risk factor for back pain across adulthood. This highlights the potential lifelong consequences on back pain of the rising prevalence of obesity within the population.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Muthuri S, Cooper R, Kuh D, Hardy R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMJ Open

Year: 2020

Volume: 10

Issue: 12

Online publication date: 12/12/2020

Acceptance date: 21/11/2020

Date deposited: 17/01/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2044-6055

Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-039197

PubMed id: 33310796


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