GERD and Obesity in the U.S.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a major concern in the U.S. The prevalence of GERD in Western countries is approaching 20 percent and is increasing about 5 percent a year (Ayazi, 2009). The rate of obesity has also risen dramatically. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese.
Are Obesity and GERD Related?
Given that there is a parallel rise in obesity and GERD, it is reasonable to ask if the rise in obesity could be causing the rise in acid reflux disease. While the relationship between the two diseases is not completely understood, we do know that as Body Mass Index (BMI) increases, the amount of acid exposure increases. In other words, as people become heavier, the more they experience reflux symptoms. And, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine, the rate of other acid reflux associated complications such as erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer also increases with increases in weight.
How Could Obesity Cause GERD?
The lower esophagus sphincter (LES) is a group of muscles at the low end of the esophagus where it meets the stomach. When the LES is working correctly, it prevents food from coming back into the esophagus. Compared to people of normal weight, people who are obese are more than twice as likely to have a defective LES.
Diet may also play a role in the connection between obesity and GERD. Eating habits of people who are overweight are often different from those of normal weight. An increased volume and fat content in the diet can lead to more acid reflux episodes. High calorie diets have also been shown to increase both obesity and GERD.
Another reason obesity could be related to GERD is that there may be more abdominal pressure if someone is obese which can then lead to acid reflux symptoms.
Will Losing Weight Decrease Acid Reflux?
When it comes to whether weight loss will help with reflux, the results are mixed. Some research shows an improvement in reflux symptoms with weight loss (especially when bariatric surgery was involved). On the other hand, at least one study showed no improvement in reflux symptoms when individuals lost at least 10 percent of their body weight.
It is always a good idea for someone who is overweight to lose weight for many different health reasons. Knowing that excess body weight could potentially cause acid reflux symptoms to worsen is one more good reason to maintain a healthy body weight.
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.