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Excess Weight & Life Expectancy

Monday, January 28, 2019


With all the concern about healthcare as we age, we are seeing reports of greater longevity in other countries credited to better healthcare.  This can be misleading.
 
It's not just the healthcare we receive that determines our life expectancy. It can be the lifestyle we choose to live. We, as a nation, smoke too much, eat too much, and don’t get enough exercise. And, we are producing a generation of obese children who will become obese adults.

We’ve been pointing out the dangers of excess weight in our Friday Pearls for a long time, particularly fat around the middle. A study from the National Institutes of Health and the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center, published online in 2009 in the British Medical Journal further confirms this.

The study finds that being overweight in middle age may slash an individual’s chances of making it to their senior years in good health by almost 80 percent. American researchers observed more than 17,000 female nurses with an average age of 50 in the U.S. All of the women were healthy when the study began in 1976. Researchers then monitored the women's weight, along with other health changes, every two years until 2000. Qi Sun, a research associate at Harvard University and one of the study authors, said men were probably equally at risk, since fat metabolism is largely the same in both genders.

For every one-point increase in their Body Mass Index, women had a 12 percent lower chance of surviving to age 70 in good health when compared to thinner women. Researchers defined "healthy survival" as not only being free of chronic disease, but having enough mental and physical ability to perform daily tasks like grocery shopping, vacuuming or walking up a flight of stairs. This suggests the link between weight gain and Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Aviva Must, professor and chair of the public health and community medicine department at Tufts University School of Medicine Tufts University School of Medicine stated, "People may think they can safely gain weight through their 20s, 30s and 40s, but there is no evidence that gaining weight is natural. These results suggest that even small weight gains are not innocuous."

Experts consider people with a BMI between 19-25 to be healthy, while those from 25 to 30 are considered overweight and those over 30 are obese.

A British study published earlier this year found people with a BMI from 30 to 35 die about three years earlier than normal while those who were morbidly fat, with a BMI above 40, die about a decade earlier. Experts said the findings underlined the importance of preventing obesity in the first place.

Stephan Rossner, an obesity expert at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm states, "If you are on the obesity track early in life, it could get very dangerous by the time you are middle-aged". Unlike the known benefits of cessation of smoking at any age, it appears uncertain if people can regain the health benefits of being thin if they lose weight later in life. While average life spans have increased in recent years with scientific advances in treating illness, experts warn the obesity epidemic could undo those gains.

The take home message: If excess weight doesn't kill you before you are old, it could make your life miserable in the form of chronic health problems and impaired mental fitness as you age. Current science suggests that with proper exercise, lifestyle changes, good nutrition, including nutritional supplements, you can live longer in good health.

Spencer Thornton, MD, and the Biosyntrx staff