You may have heard that being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for chronic kidney disease (CKD), and that weight loss is essential to manage the condition.
Yes and no says a new study published in the journal Obesity.
Because there is one thing much more effective than losing weight when it comes to fighting off CKD, and it works for people of all shapes and sizes.
This study from researchers at Drexel University delved deep into the world of kidney health, obesity, and fitness. They analyzed data from 1,208 overweight and obese adults from six cities across the U.S. These individuals were part of a larger study called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.
From the early 2000s, the participants were monitored for almost a decade. Importantly, these adults were unique because, unlike many studies before, they did not have pre-existing diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems.
The data collected included demographic information, blood pressure, co-occurring conditions, weight, physical activity, and kidney function assessed by estimated glomerular filtration rate.
Two main findings from this study stand out:
1. Every 5 kg (around 11 lbs) of weight gained increased the risk of developing CKD by 34%.
2. Those who reported walking slower than two miles per hour saw their kidney function decline more quickly than those who walked faster.
These findings were consistent regardless of whether or not the participants had high blood pressure at the beginning of the study.
The researchers clarified that, while they noticed weight gain and low fitness levels increased the risk of kidney disease, they did not find strong evidence that losing weight reduced kidney disease risk.
This doesn’t mean that shedding pounds isn’t beneficial for avoiding kidney disease; it just means that it is less important than physical activity and avoiding weight gain in the first place.
The fact that the participants were overweight and obese makes this finding all the more interesting as this is a population where one intuitively thinks weight loss would be among the most important lifestyle changes to promote health.
The groups that benefited most from weight loss were those with severe obesity and those who had developed kidney problems, but even among these participants, weight loss played a smaller role than physical activity and avoiding additional weight gain.
All of this means that taking a nice, brisk walk in the park once or twice a day is the best way to prevent kidney disease especially if you are overweight and even if you already have some kidney problems.