Greater Weight Equals Shorter Life

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Two new studies clearly show that being overweight, and especially obese, will cut years off your life expectancy. Data from the long-running Framingham Heart study examined the impact of body mass index (BMI) on life expectancy in 3,457 men and women 30-49 years of age. The results showed that a non-smoking woman at age 40 lost 3.3 years off her life expectancy if she was overweight (BMI = 25 to 29.9) while a similar man would lose 3.1 years. An obese man or woman (BMI = 30+) at age 40 lost 5.8 and 7.1 years off their life expectancy, respectively, if they did not smoke. Obese smokers lost about 13.5 years off their life expectancy. The authors of this study state, “These decreases in life expectancy are similar to those seen with smoking. Obesity in adulthood is a powerful predictor of death at older ages.”1 The results show that either smoking or being obese at age 40 cuts your life expectancy by about 6 to 7 years.

The second study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Surveys to estimate the number of years of life lost (YLL) on average at different BMI levels. In general, becoming overweight in early adulthood increased the YLL more than being overweight or obese later in life. The most severely obese (BMI = 45+) young men lost an average of 13 years off their life expectancy compared to those with a BMI of 23 to 25. The authors of this study conclude, “Obesity appears to lessen life expectancy markedly, especially among younger adults.”2 The results of this study clearly show that the bigger you are, the sooner you are likely to die.

Bottom Line: There is now convincing scientific evidence that disease, disability and death all show up sooner and take a greater toll on one’s health the sooner in life excess weight is gained. The more weight one puts on, the greater the likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoarthritis, many types of cancer, gallstones and numerous other ills. With close to 2 out of every 3 American adults (and a growing number of children) now overweight or obese, it is clear that America’s love affair with fast foods, desserts and rich snack foods is killing more people today then tobacco.


1. Peeters, A; JJ Barendregt; F Willekens, et al. Ann Intern Med 2003;138:24-32

2. Fontaine, KR; DT Redden; C Wang; AO Westfall; DA Allison. JAMA 2003;289:187-93

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