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Moderate kimchi intake linked to lower obesity rates, study shows

In a recent study published within the journal BMJ Open, researchers explored the connection between kimchi consumption and obesity in South Korea.



Study: Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional evaluation of the Health Examinees study. Image Credit: Nungning20/Shutterstock.com

Obesity is related to dietary, environmental, and lifestyle aspects and is a major risk factor for diabetes, chronic kidney disease, heart problems, and hyperlipidemia. Obesity prevalence in South Korea has increased steadily over time. Meanwhile, the prevalence of abdominal obesity has also increased over time.

Increased obesity prevalence is related to higher medical expenditure; thus, obesity prevention stays a public health priority. In Korea, kimchi is a conventional side dish low in calories but wealthy in vitamins, dietary fiber, polyphenols, and lactic acid bacteria. There are concerns about kimchi as considered one of the main contributors to sodium intake.

A 2019-20 survey revealed that every day sodium intake from kimchi was 500 mg (15% of total sodium intake). Studies have shown associations between increased sodium intake and a greater prevalence of hypertension and obesity. Nevertheless, consuming fermented vegetables and kimchi has been related to lower body weight and improved total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels.

Concerning the study

The current study explored the associations between kimchi consumption and obesity in South Korean adults. The researchers used data from a big, prospective, community-based cohort study, “Health Examinees” (HEXA). HEXA was part of a bigger genome and epidemiology study examining genetic and environmental risk aspects for chronic diseases in adults aged > 40.

Baseline assessments within the HEXA study were performed between 2004 and 2013. Participants were excluded in the event that they had a history of cancer, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, heart problems, hyperlipidemia, or hypertension. Those with an implausible energy intake and missing anthropometric data were also excluded.

A semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire assessed dietary intake for the past yr. Total kimchi included kkakdugi, dongchimi (watery kimchi), baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), and others, e.g., mustard green kimchi, lettuce kimchi, and green onion kimchi. Intake of sodium, potassium, macronutrients, and fiber was calculated. Obesity is having a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 25 kg/m2.

Abdominal obesity was defined as having a waist circumference (WC) ≥ 90 cm for males and ≥ 85 cm for females. A questionnaire was administered to capture data on sociodemographics, smoking, disease history, menopause status, and physical activity.

Participants were stratified into groups based on kimchi intake. A multivariable logistic evaluation estimated odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals of obesity by kimchi intake.

Findings

The study included 115,726 individuals aged 51.8, on average. Most participants (> 68%) were female. Obesity prevalence was 28.2% overall, 24.7% in females, and 36.1% in males. Individuals consuming five or more servings/day of total kimchi had increased weight and WC in comparison with those consuming lower than one serving per day; they were also more prone to devour alcohol and be obese.

Males with ≥ five servings/day of total kimchi were younger, smokers, taller, and more physically energetic than those with lower than one serving/day. Against this, females consuming ≥ five servings per day were older, non-smokers, physically inactive, post-menopausal, shorter, and married in comparison with those consuming lower than one serving a day.

Males consuming up to a few servings of total kimchi every day had a lower obesity prevalence than those consuming lower than one serving a day. Baechu kimchi consumption (≥ three servings/day) amongst males was significantly related to a ten% reduced prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity relative to those with lower than one serving/day.

In females, two to a few servings per day of baechu consumption was related to about 8% lower obesity prevalence and 6% lower prevalence of abdominal obesity in comparison with those with lower than one serving/day. Individuals consuming kkakdugi greater than the median quantity had lower odds of getting abdominal obesity in comparison with non-consumers.

Conclusions

Overall, the study illustrated an inverse association between total kimchi consumption (one to a few servings per day) and obesity risk in males. As well as, males with a better intake of baechu kimchi had a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity and obesity. Increased kkakdugi intake was related to lower abdominal obesity prevalence in each men and women.

While consuming five or more servings of kimchi was related to higher obesity prevalence, it was not statistically significant. Higher total kimchi intake was also related to increased protein, carbohydrates, fat, sodium, cooked rice, and total energy intake. The study’s limitations include its cross-sectional design, which limits causal inference, and lack of generalizability to other populations.

Journal reference:

  • Jung H, Yun Y, Hong SW, et al. (2024). Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional evaluation of the Health Examinees study. BMJ Open. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2023-076650. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/14/2/e076650
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