Study: Extreme obesity may drastically reduce life expectancy

Individuals with extreme obesity can have a reduction in life expectancy of up to 14 years, compared with people of normal weight, according results of a recently published National Institute of Health study.

The study, led by researchers from the National Cancer Institute, was based on an analysis of data from 20 larger studies of people in the United States, Sweden and Australia. Smokers and people with a history of certain diseases were not included. Researchers evaluated the risk of premature death overall, as well as from specific causes in more than 9,500 individuals who had a 40 body mass index (BMI) or higher. The results were compared to 304,000 people classified as normal weight.

According to the results, death from cancer and other causes such as stroke, diabetes, kidney, liver and heart disease increased consistently with increasing BMI. Most deaths in individuals who had a BMI of 40 or higher were due to heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The years of life lost ranged from 6.5 years for people with a BMI of 40 to 44.9, and to 13.7 years for people with BMI of 55 to 59.9. The total number of years of life lost for people with a BMI of 40 or higher was equal or greater to that of normal-weight cigarette smokers in the same study.

“Given our findings, it appears that class III [40 BMI, or higher] obesity is increasing and may soon emerge as a major cause of early death in this and other countries worldwide,” Patricia Hartge, ScD, from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and senior author, stated in the study.

While the accuracy of the study is limited by the use of self-reported weight measurements and the use of BMI as the sole measure of obesity, researchers noted the need to develop more effective methods to address obesity.

For more information:

Kitahara CM. PLoS Med. 2014. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001673.

Disclosure: Kitahara has no relevant financial disclosures.

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