The association between obesity and back pain in nine countries: A cross-sectional study

Ai Koyanagi, Andrew Stickley, Noe Garin, Marta Miret, Jose Luis Ayuso-Mateos, Matilde Leonardi, Seppo Koskinen, Aleksander Galas, Josep Maria Haro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The association between obesity and back pain has mainly been studied in high-income settings with inconclusive results, and data from older populations and developing countries are scarce. The aim of this study was to assess this association in nine countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America among older adults using nationally-representative data. Methods: Data on 42116 individuals ≥50 years who participated in the Collaborative Research on Ageing in Europe (COURAGE) study conducted in Finland, Poland, and Spain in 2011-2012, and the World Health Organization's Study on Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE) conducted in China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa in 2007-2010 were analysed. Information on measured height and weight available in the two datasets was used to calculate Body Mass Index (BMI). Self-reported back pain occurring in the past 30 days was the outcome. Multivariable logistic regression analysis was used to assess the association between BMI and back pain. Results: The prevalence of back pain ranged from 21.5% (China) to 57.5% (Poland). In the multivariable analysis, compared to BMI 18.5-24.9 kg/m2, significantly higher odds for back pain were observed for BMI ≥35 kg/m2 in Finland (OR 3.33), Russia (OR 2.20), Poland (OR 2.03), Spain (OR 1.56), and South Africa (OR 1.48); BMI 30.0-34.0 kg/m2 in Russia (OR 2.76), South Africa (OR 1.51), and Poland (OR 1.47); and BMI 25.0-29.9 kg/m2 in Russia (OR 1.51) and Poland (OR 1.40). No significant associations were found in the other countries. Conclusions: The strength of the association between obesity and back pain may vary by country. Future studies are needed to determine the factors contributing to differences in the associations observed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Back pain
  • Developing country
  • Multi-country study
  • Obesity
  • Older population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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