Heartburn and Acid Reflux Increase With Obesity

In the past decade, there’s been a large increase in the number of people experiencing frequent heartburn and acid reflux. Researchers say that excessive weight is to blame.

A new study has found that acid reflux has become almost 50% more common over the past decade, and researchers believe that obesity is the cause. The studies results also indicate that it’s likely more people will develop esophageal cancer, which is closely linked with acid reflux. Esophageal cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers today and is not easily treated.

Acid Reflux Increases with Obesity

The study was conducted in Norway, and is one of the largest of its kind that shows the rise in symptoms of Acid Reflux. It compiled data from in excess of 30,000 people and was conducted by Dr. Eivind Ness-Jensen, from the HUNT Research Center’s Department of Public Health and General Practice at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Over an eleven year period, researchers examined how many people reported symptoms of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The research results were staggering – reporting the number of people exhibiting any symptoms went up by 30%. There was also 24% increase in people complaining of “severe” symptoms, and a 47% increase in the number of people who experienced acid reflux symptoms on a weekly basis.1

The study aimed to determine prevalence, but did not specifically look at the causes of each patient’s GERD. Dr. Ness-Jensen reports suspecting a correlation of rising rates of obesity are responsible for the increase.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2006 looked at the association between Body Mass Index (BMI) and Gastroesophageal Reflux symptoms in both normal weight and overweight woman. The study looked at 10,545 women and came to the conclusion that “BMI is associated with GERD symptoms in both normal weight and overweight individuals.” The reported findings suggested that even a small weight gain in normal weight women may cause or make reflux symptoms worse. Women with a BMI of 22.5-24.9 were approximately 40% more likely to report frequent symptoms than woman with a lower BMI. Overweight women with a BMI of 25-30 and obese women with a BMI greater than 30 were two to three times as likely to report frequent symptoms of GERD.2

Why Does Obesity Trigger Acid Reflux?

It is thought that excess abdominal weight puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, the area between the esophagus and the beginning of the stomach. The extra weight squeezes food and acid back up into the esophagus, creating that feeling of heartburn.

Acid reflux has been linked to esophageal cancer, a type of cancer, which is on the rise. It’s thought that exposing cells in the esophagus to acid on a regular basis, which happens during acid reflux, leads to the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates that 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed in 2011 and nearly 15,000 Americans died of the disease.

Not all cases of acid reflux are related to obesity. But for those who have GERD and are overweight, losing weight could help resolve symptoms and avoid a dangerous type of cancer.

Gravity1st™ Elevated Sleep Systems mattress and losing weight are the top recommended lifestyle changes for the relief of acid reflux symptoms.


1.Eivind Ness-Jensen, Anna Lindam, Jesper Lagergren, Kristian Hveem: Changes in prevalence, incidence and spontaneous loss of gastro-oesophageal reflux symptoms: a prospective population-based cohort study, the Hunt study: GutOnline, Dec. 21, 2011; 10.1136/gutjnl-2011-300715.

2. Brian C. Jacobsen, MD, MPH, Samuel C. Somers, MD, MMSC, Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, Ciaran P. Kellly, MD and Carlos A. Camargo Jr., MD, DrPH: Association Between Body Mass Index and Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Both Normal Weight and Overweight Woman. N Engl J Med, 2006 June 1; 354(22):2340-2348.