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10 PCOS and Weight Gain Statistics: Examining the Evidence

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

Up to 10% of American women in their childbearing years are estimated to be affected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), accounting for more than 5 million individuals. This condition stands out as one of the most prevalent hormonal disorders among women in their reproductive age.

Notably, PCOS is associated with weight gain, a factor that significantly impacts the overall physical and emotional well-being of those affected. Its implications go beyond weight concerns as they may also develop serious health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Given the prevailing trends and associated health risks, addressing this matter is crucial. This article will explore eye-opening statistics on PCOS and weight gain, emphasizing the importance of understanding and managing this prevalent hormonal disorder.

Editor’s Choice

  • Over a 19-year study period, women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) exhibited a 0.26 kg (0.57 lbs) higher annual rate of weight gain and a substantial 4.62 kg (10.19 lbs) greater cumulative gain.
  • PCOS is diagnosed in approximately 4.3% of women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or below 25 kg/m2. However, this prevalence increases to 14% among women whose BMI exceeds 30 kg/m2. According to the CDC, if your BMI is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obesity range.
  • A significant portion, exceeding 50%, of women diagnosed with PCOS are observed to develop type 2 diabetes before reaching the age of 40.
  • Women diagnosed with PCOS faced a 47% higher risk of overall mortality than those without PCOS. Notably, mortality due to diseases of the cardiovascular system was increased by 67%, and mortality due to tumors was elevated by 38%.
  • Individuals with PCOS who adhered to a low glycemic index (GI) diet experienced a notable 300% increase in insulin improvement and achieved better menstrual regularity compared to those who did not follow the diet.
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What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a prevalent endocrine disorder affecting females of reproductive age worldwide. This condition is characterized by a combination of factors, including:

  • Chronic anovulation
  • Hyperandrogenism (either clinical or biological)
  • Presence of polycystic ovaries

This syndrome is not only widespread but also frequently underdiagnosed, resulting in a prolonged diagnostic process for affected individuals.

Understanding PCOS is crucial as it has far-reaching implications for women's health. Timely recognition of its manifestations is essential for effective management and mitigating associated comorbidities' potential progression.

Is there a Connection Between PCOS and Weight Gain?

PCOS induces insulin resistance, which prompts the pancreas to produce more insulin. Unfortunately, this surplus of insulin also acts as a catalyst for fat storage, increasing fat accumulation and a heightened tendency toward weight gain.

This connection creates a cyclic pattern. Excess weight can exacerbate insulin resistance, leading to elevated insulin levels, contributing to further weight gain.

However, various factors can contribute to weight gain. Below are statistics illustrating the relationship between PCOS and weight gain.

Weight Trends in Women with PCOS in the US

Women with PCOS deal with metabolic and hormonal challenges that can lead to weight gain and, eventually obesity. Now, let's look into compelling statistics highlighting the correlation between PCOS and patterns in weight.

1. Women with PCOS have a 47% greater annual weight gain compared to those without PCOS. (Oxford Academic Journals)

Research reveals a significant annual weight gain disparity by analyzing data spanning 19 years from a large community-based longitudinal study. Women with PCOS experience a 0.26 kg (0.57 lbs) higher rate and a substantial 4.62 kg (10.19 lbs) higher cumulative gain over the study period.

These findings illustrate how various factors, both internal and external, impact the weight fluctuations in women with PCOS. Factors like altered metabolic rates, dysregulation of gut hormones, and the suggested roles of insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism increase the likelihood of weight gain in these women.

💡 Did You Know?

Stress emerges as a particularly influential mental factor associated with weight gain. PCOS is linked to experiences of depression and anxiety, although the exact relationship between them is not fully understood.

2. PCOS occurs in 4.3% of women with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or lower and rises to 14% in women with a BMI exceeding 30 kg/m2. (PubMed)

The prevalence of PCOS increases significantly from 4.3% in women with a BMI of 25 kg/m² or lower to 14% in those with a BMI exceeding 30 kg/m².

This suggests a significant association between higher BMI levels and the occurrence of PCOS. Understanding this correlation is vital for healthcare professionals, as it emphasizes the relevance of BMI as a potential risk factor for PCOS.

Additionally, it provides valuable insights for preventive and management strategies, particularly in populations with higher BMI, aiming to mitigate the prevalence and impact of PCOS.

Metabolic Challenges in PCOS

Strong evidence shows that women with PCOS are at a higher risk for obesity, dyslipidemia, impaired glucose tolerance, and long-term complications like diabetes, endometrial cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Let's review the statistics that underscore the connection between these health issues below.

3. In the US, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in women with PCOS is as high as 80%. (PubMed)

The high prevalence of overweight and obesity among women with PCOS in the US, reaching up to 80%, emphasizes the significant association between PCOS and weight-related issues. This data is crucial for several reasons.

Firstly, it underscores the health implications of PCOS, as excess weight is associated with various metabolic and cardiovascular complications. Secondly, it highlights the urgent need for healthcare strategies to address weight management, specifically in women with PCOS.

Recognizing the prevalence of overweight and obesity in this group is crucial for improving healthcare outcomes for women with PCOS.

4. Over 50% of women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes by the age of 40. (CDC)

Research indicates an elevated likelihood of individuals with PCOS developing type 2 diabetes. One study found that women with PCOS were four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those without the disorder. Positive associations with type 2 diabetes development were found for BMI, insulin and glucose levels, and triglycerides.

Another study revealed that hepatic insulin resistance, affecting glucose production in the liver, is present in obese women with PCOS. This condition can contribute to elevated blood sugar levels and may be associated with metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.

Understanding these associations is crucial for healthcare providers to implement targeted interventions aiming to mitigate the risk and impact of type 2 diabetes in this population.

5. Insulin-mediated glucose disposal is reduced by 35–40% in women with PCOS, notably worsened by obesity. (PubMed)

Insulin's effectiveness in promoting glucose disposal in skeletal muscles is reduced by 35–40% in women with PCOS compared to weight-matched women without PCOS. This reduction is independent of obesity but is more severe in obese women with PCOS.

This suggests that the combined impact of PCOS and obesity creates a more challenging scenario for the body in terms of glucose regulation, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels.

📰 Helpful Articles

Buoy Health has articles on glucose disposal agents, supplements designed to help your body process carbohydrates more efficiently. Learn more about these supplements here:

6. 50%-90% of women with PCOS are insulin-resistant. (PubMed)

Many women with PCOS, ranging from 50% to 90%, experience a condition known as insulin resistance. This means that their bodies have difficulty using insulin, a hormone crucial for regulating blood sugar levels.

According to a study, weight gain and obesity worsen insulin resistance and metabolic issues in women with PCOS. Recognizing this connection emphasizes the need for targeted interventions, such as weight management strategies, to improve insulin sensitivity.

Mortality Risks in Women with PCOS

While PCOS is primarily known for its reproductive implications, it can also have broader health implications, including potential effects on mortality risk. Here, we explore some key statistics highlighting these associations.

7. Women with PCOS faced a 47% higher overall mortality risk compared to those without PCOS. (HCP)

Findings from a study incorporating data from over 80,000 women indicate that women with PCOS faced a 47% higher risk of mortality. A detailed analysis revealed a more than threefold increase in the risk of death specifically attributed to diabetes and bronchitis.

These results emphasize the urgent requirement to improve medical management and implement preventive measures. Doing so has the potential to decrease the observed excess mortality risk in women with PCOS.

8. The relative risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality was 67% higher in women with PCOS. (MDLinx)

According to a study in 2012, individuals with PCOS have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases due to specific hormonal imbalances. These imbalances involve increased male hormone levels (hyperandrogenism), insulin resistance, abnormal lipid levels (dyslipidemia), and inflammation.

Moreover, the same study found that women with PCOS may show a specific blood pressure pattern known as "non-dipping." Normally, blood pressure decreases slightly during sleep, known as "dipping." However, in women with PCOS, this typical nighttime decrease in blood pressure might not occur, even if they don't have high blood pressure (hypertension).

Overall, these factors contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular issues in women with PCOS. Recognizing these distinctive markers is a critical step toward understanding and addressing the cardiovascular vulnerabilities associated with PCOS.

Lifestyle Interventions in PCOS

For managing weight in PCOS patients, lifestyle changes are advised as the primary treatment. This involves adopting balanced dietary practices and gradually increasing physical activity for weight loss.

Numerous studies have attempted to enhance the lifestyles of PCOS patients through methods like diet, exercise therapy, and behavioral therapy. Now, let's explore some enlightening statistics supporting these claims.

9. Engaging in physical activity can lead to enhancements in menstrual regularity and/or ovulation in approximately 50% of women with PCOS. (PubMed)

In dealing with PCOS, it's worth looking at how exercise can help beyond just losing weight. Doing aerobic exercises, in particular, can make a big difference in how well a woman's reproductive system works if she has PCOS.

Research revealed that exercise can improve the normalization of menstrual cycles and increase rates of ovulation. It also has a positive impact on insulin sensitivity, contributing to improvements in approximately half of women with PCOS.

However, it also cautions against excessive exercise, as engaging in more than 60 minutes per day may elevate the risk of anovulation, a condition where ovulation does not occur. On the other hand, a moderate exercise duration of 30 to 60 minutes per day is associated with a reduced risk of anovulatory infertility.

These insights are vital for women with PCOS, helping them navigate the connection between exercise and reproductive health.

10. Women with PCOS on a low-GI diet saw a 300% increase in insulin improvement and improved menstrual regularity compared to those not on the diet. (PubMed)

In a 2010 study comparing two groups of women with PCOS, both groups consumed the same amount of calories and had a similar distribution of macronutrients. However, the key difference was the glycemic index (GI) of the foods they ate, which measures how much a food increases blood sugar levels.

The women with PCOS who adhered to a low-GI diet experienced a three-fold greater improvement in insulin levels and achieved better menstrual regularity compared to those who did not follow a low-GI diet.

This suggests that individuals with elevated insulin levels, commonly seen in PCOS, may benefit more from weight loss when adopting a diet with a low glycemic index.

📰 Helpful Article

If you're considering changing your diet to improve hormonal imbalance, explore Buoy Health's article "11 Types of Foods That Contribute to Hormonal Imbalance in Females."

Final Thoughts

The statistics presented highlight the correlation between PCOS and weight gain, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this pressing health concern.

Although there is no cure for PCOS, researchers emphasize the necessity for a heightened focus on lifestyle interventions to prevent weight gain.

Moreover, a comprehensive strategy is essential. This includes targeted public health initiatives, educational campaigns specifically addressing PCOS-related weight management, and improved access to healthcare services and nutritious food options tailored to the unique needs of individuals with PCOS.

FAQs on PCOS and Weight Gain

Can medications help in managing PCOS-related weight gain?

While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not specifically approved drugs for PCOS, healthcare providers usually prescribe off-label medications, such as Metformin, Spironolactone, and Hormonal Birth Control Pills. These can help address insulin resistance, hormonal imbalances, or specific symptoms linked to elevated androgens. It's important to note that the effectiveness of these medications can vary, emphasizing the need for a personalized approach. Often, a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes is pivotal in achieving optimal outcomes for individuals with PCOS.

Are there specific demographics more prone to PCOS-related weight gain?

Research suggests that factors such as age, genetics, and lifestyle can influence the likelihood of weight gain in women with PCOS.

How do hormonal fluctuations contribute to weight gain in PCOS?

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly elevated androgens and the associated insulin resistance, can disrupt the body's normal metabolic processes. This disruption can lead to difficulties in managing weight and an increased likelihood of weight gain, especially in specific areas like the abdomen, in individuals with PCOS.

Are there specific dietary recommendations for managing PCOS-related weight gain?

Research suggests that a low-glycemic diet, rich in whole foods and balanced macronutrients, can benefit women with PCOS. This approach helps stabilize blood sugar levels and manage weight.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door