Adjusting for reverse causation to estimate the effect of obesity on mortality after incident heart failure in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study

Epidemiol Health. 2016 Jun 4;38:e2016025. doi: 10.4178/epih.e2016025. eCollection 2016.


Objectives: The lower mortality rate of obese patients with heart failure (HF) has been partly attributed to reverse causation bias due to weight loss caused by disease. Using data about weight both before and after HF, this study aimed to adjust for reverse causation and examine the association of obesity both before and after HF with mortality.

Methods: Using the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, 308 patients with data available from before and after the incidence of HF were included. Pre-morbid and post-morbid obesity were defined based on body mass index measurements at least three months before and after incident HF. The associations of pre-morbid and post-morbid obesity and weight change with survival after HF were evaluated using a Cox proportional hazard model.

Results: Pre-morbid obesity was associated with higher mortality (hazard ratio [HR], 1.61; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.04 to 2.49) but post-morbid obesity was associated with increased survival (HR, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.37 to 0.88). Adjusting for weight change due to disease as a confounder of the obesity-mortality relationship resulted in the absence of any significant associations between post-morbid obesity and mortality.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated that controlling for reverse causality by adjusting for the confounder of weight change may remove or reverse the protective effect of obesity on mortality among patients with incident HF.

Keywords: Body mass index; Heart failure; Mortality; Obesity; Weight loss.

MeSH terms

  • Causality
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / epidemiology
  • Heart Failure / mortality*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / mortality*
  • Prognosis
  • Survival Analysis
  • Weight Loss