Context: Human adipose tissue expresses and releases the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin 6, potentially inducing low-grade systemic inflammation in persons with excess body fat.
Objective: To test whether overweight and obesity are associated with low-grade systemic inflammation as measured by serum C-reactive protein (CRP) level.
Design and setting: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, representative of the US population from 1988 to 1994.
Participants: A total of 16616 men and nonpregnant women aged 17 years or older.
Main outcome measures: Elevated CRP level of 0.22 mg/dL or more and a more stringent clinically raised CRP level of more than 1.00 mg/dL.
Results: Elevated CRP levels and clinically raised CRP levels were present in 27.6% and 6.7% of the population, respectively. Both overweight (body mass index [BMI], 25-29.9 kg/m2) and obese (BMI, > or =30 kg/m2) persons were more likely to have elevated CRP levels than their normal-weight counterparts (BMI, <25 kg/m2). After adjustment for potential confounders, including smoking and health status, the odds ratio (OR) for elevated CRP was 2.13 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.56-2.91) for obese men and 6.21 (95% CI, 4.94-7.81) for obese women. In addition, BMI was associated with clinically raised CRP levels in women, with an OR of 4.76 (95% CI, 3.42-6.61) for obese women. Waist-to-hip ratio was positively associated with both elevated and clinically raised CRP levels, independent of BMI. Restricting the analyses to young adults (aged 17-39 years) and excluding smokers, persons with inflammatory disease, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes mellitus and estrogen users did not change the main findings.
Conclusion: Higher BMI is associated with higher CRP concentrations, even among young adults aged 17 to 39 years. These findings suggest a state of low-grade systemic inflammation in overweight and obese persons.