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The death toll of obesity is almost four times bigger than scientists’ previously commonly held beliefs, a new study has found. Researchers fear the silent epidemic is only going to get worse, and that it will even cause the average US life expectancy to shrink.
In recent decades, obesity was responsible for more than 18% of deaths of Americans aged 40 to 85. The Columbia University study stated that scientists had previously thought that portion to be closer to 5%.
“Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe,” said first author Ryan Masters, PhD, who conducted the research. “We expect that obesity will be responsible for an increasing share of deaths in the United States and perhaps even lead to declines in US life expectancy.”
Because the current generation of youth is the first to have grown up with the obesity epidemic, scientists are concerned that the effect may be multiplied on the world’s young people.
“A 5-year-old growing up today is living in an environment where obesity is much more the norm than was the case for a 5-year-old a generation or two ago. Drink sizes are bigger, clothes are bigger, and greater numbers of a child’s peers are obese,” said co-author Bruce Link, PhD. “And once someone is obese, it is very difficult to undo. So it stands to reason that we won’t see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old.”
The research split the findings by race, age and gender, illustrating that obesity has different effects on certain demographics.
“Past research in this area lumped together all Americans, but obesity prevalence and its effect on mortality differ substantially based on your race or ethnicity, how old you are, and when you were born,” said Masters.
In the US, African-American women, who are twice as likely to be obese as Caucasian women, were also the most likely to die from obesity, with a 27% risk. Caucasian women had a 21% risk of dying from the disease. Conversely, African-American men were much less likely to die from obesity, with a risk of just 5%, while Caucasian men had a 15% risk. However, the two groups have similar rates of obesity. Researchers suspect that the low likelihood of dying from obesity amongst African-American men is because of increased risk factors from other areas in life, including high tobacco smoking rates and lower overall socioeconomic conditions.
IMAGE CREDIT: Marjan Lazarevski