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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Obesity and carotid atherosclerosis in African black and Caucasian women with established rheumatoid arthritis: a cross-sectional study

Ahmed Solomon1, Gavin R Norton2, Angela J Woodiwiss2 and Patrick H Dessein2*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa

2 Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Genomics Research Unit, School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R67  doi:10.1186/ar3784

Published: 19 March 2012



Reported findings on the relationship between adiposity and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ACVD) risk in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are contradictory and originate in developed populations. Approximately 80% of ACVD now occurs in developing countries. We aimed to ascertain the associations of clinical obesity measures with metabolic cardiovascular risk and atherosclerosis in African women with RA from a developing black and developed Caucasian population.


The associations of body mass index (BMI) as an indicator of overall adiposity and waist circumference and waist-to-height and waist-to-hip ratios as abdominal obesity indices with metabolic risk factors and high resolution B-mode ultrasound-determined carotid artery atherosclerosis were assessed in multivariate regression models in 203 African women with established RA; 108 were black and 95 Caucasian.


BMI and waist-to-height ratio were higher in African black compared to Caucasian women (29.9 (6.6) versus 25.3 (4.9) kg/m2, P = 0.002 and 0.59 (0.09) versus 0.53 (0.08), P = 0.01, respectively). Interactions between population origin and anthropometric measures were not related to metabolic risk factors but were associated with atherosclerosis, independent of confounders and individual terms. In all patients, BMI was related to systolic and diastolic blood pressure but not with serum lipid concentrations whereas abdominal obesity indices were associated with serum lipid concentrations but not with blood pressure values; obesity measures that were associated with plasma glucose concentrations comprised BMI, waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio (P < 0.05 in multiple confounder adjusted analysis). In African Caucasian women, BMI was associated with common carotid artery intima-media thickness (standardized β (95% confidence interval (CI)) = 0.21 (0.03 to 0.38)) and waist-to-hip ratio with plaque (odds ratio (OR) (95% CI) = 1.83 (1.03 to 3.25) for one standard deviation (SD) increase). These relationships were independent of multiple non-metabolic risk factors and explained by metabolic risk factors. In African black women with RA, none of the obesity measures was related to atherosclerosis.


Obesity in women with RA from developing groups of black African descent does not as yet translate into atheroma. In Caucasian women with RA that belong to developed populations, BMI and waist-to-hip ratio should be considered in ACVD risk assessment.