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Obesity May Shorten Life Expectancy up to 8 Years

Canadian researchers put numbers on health risk

Being overweight or obese could decrease life expectancy by up to 8 years, according to a study led by investigators at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University. Considering that people who weigh too much may also develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease earlier in life, this excess weight can rob them of nearly two decades of healthy life.

The study examining the relationship between body weight and life expectancy. appears in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. The McGill team worked with researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of British Columbia.

Lead author Dr. Steven Grover, a Clinical Epidemiologist at the RI-MUHC and a Professor of Medicine at McGill University, and his colleagues used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (from 2003 to 2010) to develop a computer 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.

The years of life lost for obese men ranged from 0.8 years (95% CI, 0.2–1.4) in those aged 60–79 years to 5.9 years (4.4–7.4) in those aged 20–39 years, and years lost for very obese men ranged from 0.9 (0–1.8) years in those aged 60–79 years to 8.4 (7.0–9.8) years in those aged 20–39 years. Losses were smaller and sometimes negligible for men who were only overweight.

Similar results were noted for women (e.g., 6.1 years [4.6–7.6] lost for very obese women aged 20–39 years; 0.9 years [0.1–1.7] lost for very obese women aged 60–79 years). Healthy life-years lost were two to four times higher than total years of life lost for all age groups and bodyweight categories.

“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.”

The next step is to personalize this information to make it more relevant and compelling for patients. “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?” says Dr. Grover. The research team is conducting a study in community pharmacies across the country to see if engaging patients with this information and then offering them a Web-based e-health program will help them adopt healthier lifestyles, including healthier diets and regular physical activity.

 “These clinically meaningful models are useful for patients, and their health care 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. 

Source: McGill University Health Centre; December 4, 2014; and The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, December 5, 2014.

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