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Two Years of Obesity Increases Risk of Death by 7 Percent

Aug 25, 2011

A study found that participants face a 7% increase in mortality risk for every two years of being obese, while every 10 years of obesity more than doubles the risk of all-cause mortality.

The findings underscore the need to measure not just obesity but the duration of obesity to more effectively evaluate the condition of patients and predict obesity-related diseases, British experts said.

Experts say the health hazards of obesity may have been grossly underestimated because we are not measuring the condition adequately. Risk calculations have focused on severity of weight gain alone and not how long it persists.

Latest research suggests every additional decade of being obese more than doubles death risk.

The researchers stated that, a new measure is needed: the “obese-year.” Similar to the “pack-year” used for smoking, it gives a further quantification that can be used to help estimate the associated health risks.

Obesity is becoming an epidemic and Dr. Asnawi Abdullah, from Monash University in Australia, and colleagues believe the toll is larger than has been predicted, because estimates have failed to factor in duration of obesity.

Their work shows that duration of obesity or “obese-year” has a direct effect on death risk, independent of other factors like age or how severely overweight a person is.

They looked at the health of 5,036 people living in the US who enrolled in a large study — the Framingham Cohort Study — that tracked their health every two years over decades.

Among the participants, death risk went up by 7% for every additional two years of being obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more). Being obese for between 15 and 25 years more than doubled death risk compared with those who were never obese. And death risk was tripled for those who were obese for even longer than this.

The researchers say this needs to be taken into consideration when assessing overweight patients.

“Our study demonstrates that for every additional 10 years lived with obesity, the risks of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality more than doubled, implying that the risk of mortality associated with current obesity in adults might be significantly higher than in previous decades.”

They warn that obesity is occurring at younger and younger ages which will mean today’s children can expect a shorter life expectancy compared with past generations.

“Today the average age of onset of obesity is likely to be more than 10 years earlier than in previous decades.” The findings could be a much needed wake up call for some.

“If the GP can say, ‘You have got to do something about your weight otherwise you will die at 65 rather than 75,’ that could be a useful scare tactic.”

“Many people struggle to lose weight no matter how many times they are told to or how many times they try.”

International Journal of Epidemiology, Aug. 2011

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