Engaging in physical activities and keeping watch of one's diet could help prevent unnecessary flabs and weight, but findings of a new study have revealed another surprising way to keep the weight down.

People who live in high altitude were found to have less odds of becoming obese or overweight compared with those who live in low altitude, with the difference being statistically significant.

For a new study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague on Thursday, researchers from the University of Navarra in Spain divided over 9,300 individuals who were neither obese nor overweight at the start of the study into three groups based on the altitude of their homes.

Those in the first group lived in low altitude. Those in the second group lived in medium altitude while those in the third group lived in high altitude. After about 8.5 years, almost 2,100 of these participants became obese of overweight.

The researchers found that, even after accounting for diet, physical activities and other factors, those who lived in high altitude (456 meters or almost 1,500 feet above sea level) had 13 percent reduced odds of becoming obese or overweight compared with their counterparts who lived in low altitude (less than 124 meters or about 400 feet above sea level).

"Living in cities of higher altitude was associated with a lower risk of developing overweight or obesity in a cohort of Spanish university graduates," said study researcher Maira Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra. "While it might not be realistic to expect everyone to move further uphill to reduce obesity levels, it is encouraging to see this effect occurred at only 450 meters altitude."

Earlier research has shown that the lower concentration of oxygen in high altitude is linked with lower odds for obesity rates. It is believed that this low concentration of oxygen in the air can possibly suppress hunger.

The researchers said that the high altitude boosts the secretion of leptin, a hormone that can make people feel full, resulting in suppressed hunger. It also regulates other hormones that play a role in appetite.

Less energy is also used for the metabolism of food when hunger is suppressed, reducing oxygen use, a process that may possibly be an ancient adaptive mechanism that allows people to live in high altitude where food is scarce.

The researchers now also conduct investigations on the effect of altitude on the risk factors for heart disease.

Photo: William Murphy| Flickr

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