Moderate kimchi intake linked to lower obesity rates, study shows

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In a recent study published in the journal Dr BMJ OpenResearchers have explored the relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity in South Korea.

Three jars of homemade kimchi
Study: Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional analysis of the Health Examiner Study.. Image credit: Nungning20/Shutterstock.com

Obesity is associated with nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors and is a significant risk factor for diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and hyperlipidemia. The prevalence of obesity in South Korea has increased steadily over the years. Meanwhile, the prevalence of abdominal obesity has also increased over time.

Increased obesity prevalence is associated with higher medical costs; Thus, obesity prevention remains a public health priority. In Korea, kimchi is a traditional side dish that is low in calories but rich in vitamins, dietary fiber, polyphenols, and lactic acid bacteria. There are concerns about kimchi as one of the main contributors to sodium intake.

A 2019–20 survey revealed that daily sodium intake from kimchi was 500 mg (15% of total sodium intake). Studies have shown an association between increased sodium intake and a greater prevalence of high blood pressure and obesity. Nevertheless, consumption of fermented vegetables and kimchi has been associated with lower body weight and increased total cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

About the study

The present study explored the relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity among South Korean adults. The researchers used data from a large, prospective, community-based cohort study, the “Health Examiner” (HEXA). HEXA was part of a larger genome and epidemiology study examining genetic and environmental risk factors for chronic disease in adults over 40 years of age.

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

A semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire assessed food intake for the past year. Total kimchi includes kakkadugi, dongchimi (watery kimchi), bechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi), and others, such as mustard green kimchi, lettuce kimchi, and green onion kimchi. Intakes of sodium, potassium, macronutrients and fiber were calculated. Obesity is a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 25 kg/m2.

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

Participants were divided into groups based on kimchi intake. A multivariable logistic analysis estimated odds ratio and 95% confidence interval of obesity by kimchi intake.

Findings

The study included 115,726 individuals with an average age of 51.8 years. The majority of participants (> 68%) were female. The prevalence of obesity was 28.2% overall, 24.7% among women and 36.1% among men. Individuals consuming five or more servings/day of total kimchi had increased weight and WC compared to those consuming less than one serving/day; They were also more likely to consume alcohol and be obese.

Men with ≥ five servings/day of total kimchi were younger, smokers, taller, and more physically active than those with less than one serving/day. In contrast, women who consumed ≥ five servings per day were older, nonsmokers, physically inactive, postmenopausal, younger, and married compared to those who consumed less than one serving per day.

Men who ate up to three total servings of kimchi per day were less likely to be obese than those who ate less than one serving per day. In men, high kimchi consumption (≥ three servings/day) was significantly associated with a 10% reduction in obesity and abdominal obesity compared with less than one serving/day.

In women, consumption of two to three servings of baichu per day was associated with an approximately 8% lower prevalence of obesity and a 6% lower prevalence of obesity than those who consumed less than one serving per day. Individuals consuming more than moderate amounts were less likely to have abdominal obesity than non-consumers.

Conclusion

Overall, the study depicted an inverse relationship between total kimchi consumption (one to three servings per day) and obesity risk in men. Also, men with higher consumption of bechu kimchi had lower prevalence of abdominal obesity and obesity. The amount of kakkadugi consumed was associated with a prevalence of lower abdominal obesity in both men and women.

Although five or more servings of kimchi was associated with higher obesity prevalence, this was not statistically significant. Higher total kimchi intake was also associated with protein, carbohydrate, fat, sodium, cooked rice, and total energy intake. Limitations of the study include its cross-sectional design, which limits causal inferences, 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 analysis of the Health Examiners Study. BMJ Open. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2023-076650. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/14/2/e076650



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