Identifying adults at high-risk for change in weight and BMI in England: a longitudinal, large-scale, population-based cohort study using electronic health records



Targeted obesity prevention policies would benefit from the identification of population groups with the highest risk of weight gain. The relative importance of adult age, sex, ethnicity, geographical region, and degree of social deprivation on weight gain is not known. We aimed to identify high-risk groups for changes in weight and BMI using electronic health records (EHR).


In this longitudinal, population-based cohort study we used linked EHR data from 400 primary care practices (via the Clinical Practice Research Datalink) in England, accessed via the CALIBER programme. Eligible participants were aged 18–74 years, were registered at a general practice clinic, and had BMI and weight measurements recorded between Jan 1, 1998, and June 30, 2016, during the period when they had eligible linked data with at least 1 year of follow-up time. We calculated longitudinal changes in BMI over 1, 5, and 10 years, and investigated the absolute risk and odds ratios (ORs) of transitioning between BMI categories (underweight, normal weight, overweight, obesity class 1 and 2, and severe obesity [class 3]), as defined by WHO. The associations of demographic factors with BMI transitions were estimated by use of logistic regression analysis, adjusting for baseline BMI, family history of cardiovascular disease, use of diuretics, and prevalent chronic conditions.


We included 2 092 260 eligible individuals with more than 9 million BMI measurements in our study. Young adult age was the strongest risk factor for weight gain at 1, 5, and 10 years of follow-up. Compared with the oldest age group (65–74 years), adults in the youngest age group (18–24 years) had the highest OR (4·22 [95% CI 3·86–4·62]) and greatest absolute risk (37% vs 24%) of transitioning from normal weight to overweight or obesity at 10 years. Likewise, adults in the youngest age group with overweight or obesity at baseline were also at highest risk to transition to a higher BMI category; OR 4·60 (4·06–5·22) and absolute risk (42% vs 18%) of transitioning from overweight to class 1 and 2 obesity, and OR 5·87 (5·23–6·59) and absolute risk (22% vs 5%) of transitioning from class 1 and 2 obesity to class 3 obesity. Other demographic factors were consistently less strongly associated with these transitions; for example, the OR of transitioning from normal weight to overweight or obesity in people living in the most socially deprived versus least deprived areas was 1·23 (1·18–1·27), for men versus women was 1·12 (1·08–1·16), and for Black individuals versus White individuals was 1·13 (1·04–1·24). We provide an open access online risk calculator, and present high-resolution obesity risk charts over a 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year follow-up period.


A radical shift in policy is required to focus on individuals at the highest risk of weight gain (ie, young adults aged 18–24 years) for individual-level and population-level prevention of obesity and its long-term consequences for health and health care.


The British Hearth Foundation, Health Data Research UK, the UK Medical Research Council, and the National Institute for Health Research.


Adult obesity prevention policies, which are largely untargeted, have had limited success globally,

  • Roberto CA
  • Swinburn B
  • Hawkes C
  • et al.
Patchy progress on obesity prevention: emerging examples, entrenched barriers, and new thinking.