Dec 5, 2014

Being obese may take up to 8 years off a normal human lifespan, researchers found.

In a computer modeling study, very obese men lost just over 8 years of life compared with normal-weight men, and very obese women lost as many as 6 years, Steven Grover, PhD, of McGill University, and colleagues reported online in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

They also found that very obese men and women (defined as a body mass index [BMI] of 35 and higher) lost about 19 years of healthy life, defined as living free of chronic disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes that will “dramatically reduce an individual’s life expectancy and the healthy life-years free from living with these chronic illnesses compared with people of normal weight,” they wrote.

Grover and colleagues assessed data from 3,992 patients participating in NHANES 2003-2010 to create a disease-simulation model to estimate risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

They estimated that depending on age and gender, overweight patients (BMI 25-30) would lose 0 to 3 years of life expectancy, obese patients (BMI 30-35) would lose 1 to 6 years, and very obese patients (BMI 35 and up) would lose 1 to 8 years.

They also found that excess weight didn’t just reduce life expectancy but also healthy life-years, which are years free of obesity-associated diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The greatest losses were seen among young adults ages 20 to 39, including 18.8 years for very obese men and 19.1 years for very obese women.

In an accompanying editorial, Edward Gregg, PhD, of the CDC, wrote that the study shows “what is intuitively known, but not often quantified, about obesity — that its effect on the number of healthy-years lost is far greater than its effect on total years of life.”

“Although lifetime risk and healthy life-years are potentially more simple concepts for patients and clinicians to comprehend than other epidemiological metrics, the lifelong rather than immediate time frame of the issue might not motivate patient behavior,” they cautioned.

Regardless, they noted, the findings are important and can help drive decision-making that can “simultaneously take a life-course perspective, incorporate interventions, and consider individual differences so that clinicians and public health leaders alike can effectively tackle the next phases of the obesity and diabetes epidemics.”



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