High Altitude, Low Obesity

Living at a high altitude (>1.96km  above sea level) may well be an effective way to prevent obesity. Jameson Voss and colleagues studied the somewhat random assignment of military personnel to high or low altitude posts. They found a 40% reduction in the risk of progressing from overweight to obesity for those who were assigned to high altitude posts.

This new study, published in PLOS ONE, confirms earlier research showing that low oxygen levels can cause reduced food consumption and weight loss. Voss and his colleagues studied the health and service records of nearly 100,000 military personnel. Said Voss, “This is the strongest evidence to date that moving to high altitude provides long-term obesity protection.”

Colorado, a state with a large share of high-altitude communities, has long been noted for a low rate of obesity. Recent research by Gallup found that Boulder, CO (elevation 5,430 feet) had the lowest rate of obesity in the U.S. Denver, with an elevation of 5280 feet, has the lowest obesity rate of any large metropolitan area.

The robustness of this finding is impressive. Even when adjusting for a wide range of potential confounding factors, the effect of assignment to a high altitude location remained highly significant.

So it seems that living high might mean less, not more, obesity.

Click here to read the study in PLOS ONE and here to read about it in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Click here to read about Gallup’s research on the ranking of obesity rates in U.S. communities.

Between Realities, photograph © Pierre Andrews / flickr

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