Posts Tagged ‘Mortality’
Obesity may have multiple negative health effects, but higher mortality rates are not among them, according to a study that was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Researchers found that people with weight problems don’t necessarily have shorter life expectancies than their normal-weight contemporaries. In fact, a few extra pounds could even lower the risk of an untimely death.
The findings were greeted with great interest in the press and welcomed as good news for the two-thirds of all Americans who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are considered overweight or obese.
Based on the results of this study, the government ought to redefine the meaning of “overweight” and “obese” and re-categorize a large part of the population as normal-weight and healthy, writes Paul Campus, author of “The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health” (Penguin Group, 2004), in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
“If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn’t increase the risk of death, then 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead,” he says.
If only it were that easy.
What this particular study does say is that among all causes of mortality, not overall health risks, being overweight does not seem to stand out as a particularly significant factor. But that doesn’t mean the obesity crisis should no longer be treated as such.
In fact, the study, which investigated the causes of 270,000 deaths from around the world, also found that the morbidly obese had a 29 percent increased risk of dying prematurely compared to normal-weight and moderately overweight people.
It would be a mistake to conclude from this one study that Americans can keep overeating, says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC department that conducted the research. “I don’t think anyone would disagree with the basic fact that being more physically active and eating a healthier diet is very important for your health,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Other experts agree. The body mass index (BMI) by which weight levels are commonly measured is an imperfect assessment of the risk of mortality, and additional factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar must also be considered, says Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, in an interview with the New York Times in response to the study release.
But many of these diseases are diet and lifestyle related, and together they amount to over 60 percent of all causes of death in the world today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Maintaining a healthy weight range may not automatically produce longevity. It may have little or no influence on one’s life expectancy at all, as this study seems to indicate. But we can say with certainty that struggling with weight problems and other related health issues significantly takes away from the quality of life a person can enjoy, and increasingly so with age. A report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) found that “Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) lost to U.S. adults due to morbidity and mortality from obesity have more than doubled from 1993 to 2008 and the prevalence of obesity has increased 89.9 percent during the same period.”
If we only look at statistics, we may not understand how weight problems affect people in so many ways. Being unable to move without pain, being dependent on medications, getting out of breath at the slightest physical strain, those are the consequences that may not actually shorten life but make it so much harder – and unnecessarily so.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Nearly Half of All Americans Will Be Obese Within Two Decades, Study Projects.”
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.
Spending too many hours sitting at work, commuting or relaxing on the couch can wreak as much hazard on your health as being overweight or even smoking, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, found that sedentary lifestyles are responsible for millions of premature deaths globally, on par with so-called non-communicable diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In fact, more people may die from inactivity than from tobacco use – a somewhat surprising discovery.
For the study, the scientists used a statistical model to analyze how lifestyle-related diseases and early deaths could be prevented if people moved more. Because much of the world population is increasingly becoming sedentary due to greater availability of private and public transportation as well as changes in the work place, inactivity is rapidly becoming a major public health concern.
Worldwide, it is estimated that inactivity is the cause for 6 percent of coronary heart disease cases, 7 percent of type 2 diabetes, 10 percent of breast cancer and 10 percent of colon cancer. As a contributor to premature mortality, it has lead to well over 5 million deaths, or about 9 percent of all deaths, in 2008, the year the data were collected. By comparison, smoking was estimated to have killed about 5 million people worldwide in the year 2000, a number that has gradually come down since.
If people became more active, it could increase the average life expectancy of the world population by 0.68 years, according to the report. In the United States those numbers would even be higher: 1.3 to 3.7 years from the age of 50, just by getting enough daily exercise.
Physical inactivity, as defined in the study, is an activity level below the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which call for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of a more vigorous regimen each week.
I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study report, who calls her estimates “likely to be very conservative,” said that the issue of inactivity should be considered as “pandemic with far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences.” She said one of the key messages of her report is to make this problem a global health priority.
While some progress has been made to reduce tobacco use and alcohol consumption and to promote healthier eating habits, the lack of regular physical activity has not yet been widely recognized as a standalone health threat, despite of being the fourth leading cause of death in the world.
The good news is that more awareness of the importance of exercising can have an accumulative effect on other health and lifestyle issues as well. As people understand better how the different aspects of well-being are connected, they can see the benefits on multiple levels. Exercise and healthy eating make us feel better, give us more energy, help us control our weight, protect us from illness, and may let us live longer and stay fit at old age. None of this is rocket science. It makes you wonder how we could have gotten so far off course in the first place.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.