Obesity could shorten lifespan by 8 years

18 December 2014

A new study has found that being obese could shorten a person's life expectancy by up to eight years.

Analysis led by a team from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University examined the relationship between body weight and life expectancy. They found that people who were either overweight or obese have the potential to decrease life expectancy by up to eight years. 

Published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, the study adds further weight to support medical advice that obesity puts a strain on health, causing a number of other issues.

“In collaboration with researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia our team has developed a computer model to help doctors and their patients better understand how excess body weight contributes to reduced life expectancy and premature development of heart disease and diabetes,” said lead author Dr Steven Grover, a clinical epidemiologist at the RI-MUHC and a professor of Medicine at McGill University.

Along with his team, Dr Grover used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to develop a model that estimates the annual risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults with different body weights. 

They found that those who were very obese could lose up to eight years of life, while obese individuals could reduce their life by up to six years. For patients that were overweight, the study found they could live up to three years less than their healthier counterparts.

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). 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,” Dr Grover adds. “In terms of life-expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking.”

He said the next steps are to tailor this data to make it more encouraging and relevant to patients, and to help them make personalised lifestyle changes.

“What may be interesting for patients are the ’what if?’ questions. What if they lose 10 to 15 pounds? Or, what if they are more active? How will this change the numbers?” said Dr Grover. 

The team have now embarked on a three-year study in community pharmacies to see if engaging patients with this information and then offering them a web-based e-health programme will help them adopt healthier lifestyles, including healthier diets and regular physical activity.

“These clinically meaningful models are useful for patients, and their healthcare professionals, to better appreciate the issues and the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, which we know is difficult for many of us to adopt and maintain," Dr Grover adds. 

Posted by Edward Bartel


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