Years of Life Are Lost Due to Obesity

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2003 Volume 14, Number 3
©2003 Gürze Books

Although public health officials and organizations have widely publicized the dangers of obesity, the U.S. and other developed countries continue to report ever-increasing incidences of obesity For example, the National Institutes of Health reports that more than 64% of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Obesity can affect many aspects of general health, and according to results of a recent study, can take the ultimate toll—shortening life span.

Kevin R. Fontaine, PhD, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Alabama recently used epidemiological data, including that from the National Health and Nutritional Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (NHANES I and II) and mortality data to estimate the years of life lost among adults aged 18 to 85 years (JAMA 2003;289).

Dr. Fontaine and coworkers found marked race and gender differences in estimated years of life lost. Among Whites, a marked association was found between overweight or obesity and shortened life span. Interestingly, for any degree of overweight, obesity had a stronger impact among young adults than older adults. The maximum years of life lost for White men aged 20 to 30 years with a severe level of obesity (BMI greater than 45) is 13; for severely obese White Women, 20 to 30, this was 8 years.

For men, this could represent a 22% reduction in expected years of life remaining. Among Black men and women older than 60, overweight and moderate obesity were generally not linked to a shorter lifespan; only severe obesity resulted in shortened longevity. Blacks younger than 60 who were severely obese had a maximum loss of years of life of 20, compared to 5 for women.

The optimal BMI, or that associated with the best longevity, was between 23 to 25 for Whites and 23 to 30 for Blacks.

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