Another Measure of the Years of Life Lost to Excess Weight

When considering the impact on life expectancy and long-term health the data tells us that obesity and smoking are in the same ballpark. Here is a recent research publication that puts some numbers to the very real costs of being overweight. The results are similar to those produced in past studies:

Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (from years 2003 to 2010) to develop a model that estimates the annual risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults with different body weights. This data from almost 4,000 individuals was also used to analyze the contribution of excess body weight to years of life lost and healthy years of life lost.

Their findings estimated that individuals who were very obese could lose up to 8 years of life, obese individuals could lose up to 6 years, and those who were overweight could lose up to three years. In addition, healthy life-years lost were two to four times higher for overweight and obese individuals compared to those who had a healthy weight, defined as 18.5-25 body mass index (BMI). When one considers that these individuals may also develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease earlier in life, this excess weight can rob them of nearly two decades of healthy life. The age at which the excess weight accumulated was an important factor and the worst outcomes were in those who gained their weight at earlier ages. "The pattern is clear - the more an individual weighs and the younger their age, the greater the effect on their health. In terms of life-expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking."



Can someone more fully explain this study? The "up to 8 years" metric seems somewhat misleading. If somebody at the age of 35 has a fatal heart attack due to obesity-related problems (and this has happened), that person has potentially lost fifty years of life (or considerably more, depending on the future of life extension). I'm also not seeing how "healthy life" is defined.

Posted by: Slicer at December 5th, 2014 1:06 PM

@Slicer: The wording is probably made more clear by looking at the abstract:

For a given weight category they are looking at people who achieve it in various age groups. If you are older at a given weight you lose less life expectancy and if you are younger you lose more. Life expectancy is a statistical measure across a population, so the greater loss for being very overweight at younger ages is partially a function of losing more of the rest of your life if you do die.

Posted by: Reason at December 5th, 2014 1:28 PM

Oh, the wonky punctuation in the abstract got me for a bit. Very obese men aged 20 to 39 apparently lose an average of 8.4 years of life by being this obese, with (if anyone unfamiliar with statistics is reading this) 95% confidence that the real average is between 7.0 and 9.8.

An *individual* who is very obese can lose a great many more than that.

Posted by: Slicer at December 5th, 2014 2:02 PM

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