Obesity Reduces Organ Donor Pool

Washington, DC (May 10, 2012) - The obesity epidemic is contributing to the shortage of organs available for transplant, according to new research presented at the National Kidney Foundation's 2012 Spring Clinical Meetings, held here this week. The study shows that a large majority of obese potential kidney donors are unable to lose the weight needed to donate, despite being willing to give their organs.

"We all know that the prevalence of obesity is increasing globally," said Mala Sachdeva, MD, of Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and the lead author of the study. "There is not enough research studying the prevalence of obesity among the population of potential donors. In addition, no one has studied how hard it is to lose weight and then donate.”

There are about 92,000 people waiting for a kidney in the United States, and large populations of potential donors may be turned away due to their weight. Currently, most people with a Body Mass Index of over 35 are considered ineligible to donate, with the majority of transplant centers refusing these living donors who are considered obese.

Dr. Sachdeva's initial study, based on potential kidney donors at the North Shore-LIJ Health System Transplant Center on Long Island, NY, examined over 100 individuals who were willing to be living donors. About 18 percent of the cohort had a BMI that was considered normal (18 to 25), while the majority fit into the overweight or obese categories. Over 22 percent of potential donors were excluded as a result of their weight.

"A surprise was that of the 22 percent who were excluded, only three individuals were successful at losing enough weight to donate. Furthermore, seeing that 82% of the total potential donors spanned the overweight to obese categories supported our knowledge that obesity is a problem and action must be taken otherwise our donor pool will decrease." Dr. Sachdeva said.

Of those who were excluded, 30 percent reported they were trying to lose weight, but were unsuccessful.

Sachdeva believes that transplant centers need more rigorous weight reduction programs, with increased follow-up and peer support structures to ensure positive weight-loss outcomes and long-term health.

Sachdeva also said that further research was needed to identify successful approaches to weight loss for potential donors and to also pinpoint the motivators that separate those who can make these health changes, and those who cannot.

"As the kidney transplant waiting list grows, there is a great need for living donors," said Lynda Szczech, MD, National Kidney Foundation President. "This study pointed out the impact of obesity as a barrier to donation. As a community, we need to identify ways to overcome this barrier so that we can increase our donor pool and end the wait for transplant."

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing and treating kidney disease, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases and increasing availability of all organs for transplantation. For more information visit www.kidney.org.