Is Obesity Slowing Gains in U.S. Life Spans?

The death rate in the United States isn’t decreasing as it has in years past, and some experts blame the opioid epidemic. But a new study suggests America’s increasing obesity is what’s really behind the slowdown.

Excess weight led to nearly 200,000 excess deaths in 2011. And overall, those extra pounds reduced life expectancy by almost one year at age 40, researchers determined.

“Rising levels of body mass index [BMI] have prevented the United States from enjoying the full benefits of factors working to improve mortality,” wrote study author Samuel Preston and his colleagues. Preston is a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Body mass index is a rough estimate of a person’s body fat based on height and weight measurements.

Heart disease deaths had declined consistently for nearly 40 years. These declines have slowed or stopped altogether, according to the researchers. Rates of decline in cancer deaths have also slowed, they said.

At the same time, rates of obesity have been rising in the United States. From 1976 to 1980, 15 percent of Americans were obese. By 2014, 38 percent of Americans were classified as obese, the researchers said in background notes.

Dr. Mitchell Rosen, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said obesity is linked to mortality in several ways.

Obesity is the biggest cause of type 2 diabetes, and it promotes all of the risk factors that cause heart disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, said Rosen, who wasn’t involved with the study.

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SOURCES: Rekha Kumar, M.D., endocrinologist, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center's Comprehensive Weight Control Center, New York City; Mitchell Rosen, M.D., chief, obesity surgery, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Jan. 15, 2018, PNAS

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