Early detection of chronic kidney disease is paramount to ensuring that it does not progress into kidney failure. Unfortunately, rates of kidney disease have skyrocketed around the world in recent years, in part due to higher temperatures from climate change, and the dehydration that it causes. This recent finding shows that our knowledge of those who are at risk constantly changes.

In a new study, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have concluded a study examining the relationship between obesity and the development of chronic kidney disease. The researchers found that independent of hypertension and diabetes — both of which are responsible for two-thirds of cases — obesity is still a strong predictor for developing kidney disease. What’s worse is many obese young people don’t even realize how likely they are to develop the condition.

"Even though chronic kidney disease typically manifests in older people, the disease can start much earlier but often is not recognized early on," said Dr. Michal L. Melamed, associate professor of medicine as well as epidemiology and public health at Einstein, in a statement. "Because treatment options for [chronic kidney disease] are limited, prevention is the best approach for those at risk. A healthier lifestyle in young adults will go a long way toward promoting kidney health later in life."

Melamed and his colleagues examined health data on nearly 7,000 non-pregnant young adults using information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from between 1999 and 2010. Each participant was self-identified as either non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, or Mexican-American. Abdominal obesity, defined as a waist circumference of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, was found in 37 percent of whites, 45 percent of blacks, and 40 percent of Mexican Americans.

Their findings showed that 11 percent of Mexican Americans and around 6 percent of whites and blacks had albuminuria, or high elevated levels of the protein albumin in their urine. Having albuminuria shows that a person’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly, and indicates an elevated risk for kidney disease. Among all participants with albuminuria, less than 5 percent had ever been told they were suffering from kidney disease.

"In this study we wanted to evaluate whether obesity is associated with CKD even in an otherwise healthy young adult population and to identify risk factors that may promote this association," said Dr. Harini Sarathy, an Einstein clinical affiliate. "We also wanted to see whether race or ethnicity plays a role in linking abdominal obesity with CKD, as studies have suggested."

Previous studies have shown that obesity can damage kidney function long before hypertension or diabetes. During the study, for example, many participants already had excess levels of albumin despite having healthy blood pressure, glucose levels, and insulin sensitivity. The researchers hope the results of their analysis will motivate doctors to test for kidney damage when evaluating obese young adults with no signs of hypertension or diabetes.

"Clearly, clinicians and public health officials need to do more to identify and treat young people at risk for early progressive kidney disease so they can adopt the behavioral changes to prevent [chronic kidney disease] from occurring," Melamed added.

Just like people with diabetes and other chronic conditions, chronic kidney disease patients can manage their condition with diet and exercise. Researchers from the China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan recently found that patients who walked upward of 30 minutes a week were 21 percent less likely to require dialysis or a kidney transplant. They were also 33 percent less likely to die as a result of their condition. People who fear they may be at risk for chronic kidney disease should also consider cutting acidic foods out of their diet and adopting healthier eating habits, such as those outlined in the Mediterranean diet .

Source: Sarathy H, Henriquez G, Melamed M, et al. Abdominal Obesity, Race and Chronic Kidney Disease in Young Adults: Results from NHANES 1999-2010. PLOS One . 2016.