Objective: To study the association between overweight and lumbar disc degeneration.
Design: Population-based 4-y follow-up magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study.
Subjects: The subjects were 129 working middle-aged men selected to the baseline magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study from a cohort of 1832 men representing three occupations: machine drivers, construction carpenters, and office workers. The selection was based on the paticipants' age (40-45 y) and place of residence. MR images of the lumbar spines were obtained at baseline and at 4-y follow-up.
Measurements: Signal intensity of the nucleus pulposus of the discs L2/L3-L4/L5 was visually assessed by two readers using the adjacent cerebrospinal fluid as an intensity reference. The weight (at age 25 and 40-45 y) and height of the subjects, history of car driving, smoking, and back injuries were assessed by questionnaire.
Results: Multiple regression analyses allowing for occupation, history of car driving, smoking, and back injuries showed that persistent overweight (body mass index (BMI) > or =25 kg/m(2) at both ages) associated strongly with an increased risk of the number of lumbar discs with decreased signal intensity of nucleus pulposus at follow-up, adjusted odds ratio (OR) being 4.3 (95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) 1.3-14.3). Overweight at young age (risk ratio (RR) 3.8; 95% CI 1.4-10.4) was a stronger predictor of an increase in the number of degenerated discs during follow-up than overweight in middle age (RR 1.3; 95% CI 0.7-2.7).
Conclusions: The study provides evidence that the BMI above 25 kg/m(2) increases the risk of lumbar disc degeneration. Overweight at young age seems to be particularly detrimental.