Keeping Off the Pounds May Add on the Years

Obesity may reduce life span by several years and cut healthy years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Maintaining a healthy weight can take some work, but it can have a big payoff. Those who can keep the pounds off may live years longer than those who are overweight or obese.

Researchers in Canada recently found that those who keep a normal weight may live longer than those who are overweight or obese. Excess weight may also rob a person of up to two decades of healthy life, according to the study.

Steven A. Grover, MD, a professor of medicine and clinical epidemiologist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, led this study.

“The pattern is clear — the more an individual weighs and the younger their age, the greater the effect on their health,” Dr. Grover said in a press release. “In terms of life expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking.”

Past studies have tied excess body weight to an increased chance of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. About 70 percent of US adults are either overweight or obese and facing these health risks, according to the American Heart Association.

Dr. Grover and his colleagues analyzed data on almost 4,000 individuals from 2003 to 2010. This data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program designed to assess the health status of adults and children in the US.

These researchers calculated that people who were very obese could lose up to eight years of life. Obese patients could lose up to six years, and those who were overweight could lose up to three years.

Overweight was defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29. Obese was a 30 to 34 BMI, and very obese was 35 and higher. An ideal BMI was between 18.5 and 24. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

Dr. Grover and colleagues also noted that people with normal weight had more healthy years of life. Healthy life-years are those years spent without diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The biggest loss of healthy life-years was among very obese young men and women, ages 20 to 39. Both sexes in this group lost about 19 healthy life-years.

“Even in older individuals who are only overweight, the healthy life-years lost were substantial,” these researchers wrote.

The age at which patients gained their excess weight made a big difference. The worst outcomes were in those who put on extra pounds at earlier ages, Dr. Grover and team said. Gaining excess body weight appeared to do less damage as patients aged.

"What may be interesting for patients are the 'what if?' questions,” Dr. Grover said in a press release. “What if they lose 10 to 15 pounds? Or, what if they are more active? How will this change the numbers?"

The authors concluded that these results might help health professionals to more actively encourage weight loss in their overweight and obese patients — and provide such patients with additional motivation to follow healthier lifestyles.

This study was published online Dec. 4 in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the research. The authors declared competing interests with pharmaceutical companies like Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Novo Nordisk, Merck, Roche, Novartis and Sanofi.

Review Date: 
December 5, 2014
Last Updated:
March 16, 2015