Kidney Stones Linked to Obesity, New Research Shows

The rate of kidney stones has doubled since 1994, according to new research findings that indicate the dramatic rise may be linked to the increased obesity rate in the U.S.

Researchers at UCLA and the RAND Corporation found that only one in 20 people had kidney stones in 1994, yet between 2007 and 2010 the rate increased to one in 11. The substantial increase in kidney stone cases is most likely due to increases in obesity, diabetes and gout, which are risk factors for the condition, the researchers said.

“Kidney stones are becoming a very common health condition in the United States,” lead researcher Dr. Charles Scales, Jr. told HealthDay. Although not generally considered life-threatening, they are more common than heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

A kidney stone occurs when crystals accumulate in urine and form small rocks in the kidney or ureter. The stones can be extremely painful, affecting the belly, back or groin. Up to half of all people who develop a kidney stone will develop more in the future.

For the study, Dr. Scales’ team used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to identify the rate of kidney stones in the United States. These findings were presented at the American Urological Association meeting in Atlanta and published in the July issue of the journal European Urology.

“People with a history of kidney stones also are more likely to have histories of diabetes, obesity and gout,” said Dr. Scales, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinical scholar in the David Geffen School of Medicine departments of urology and medicine at UCLA.

“To prevent stones from forming, the most important things are diet and lifestyle interventions, such as drinking plenty of fluids, eating a low animal-protein diet and having only a moderate amount of salt,” he advised.

Dr. Arthur Smith, chairman emeritus of urology at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Lake Success, N.Y., told HealthDay, “The biggest problem is that people who are obese tend to have more salt and animal protein in their diet, and this predisposes them to stone formation.”

Current treatment for kidney stones varies by the size and location of the stone and its consistency. Stones can be removed surgically or through shock waves that are applied outside the kidney to break up the stone.