With two out of three Americans being overweight, we are getting more aware about the numerous ways that carrying excess weight can negatively affect health and diminish quality of life.
But you may not have heard the hard facts about how overweight andobesity can diminish your years of life? What?
Simply put, overweight people die younger. On average, they lose as many years to their excess weight as smokers lose to their cigarettes.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it? With all the health problems that we know are caused or worsened by excess weight, it is to be expected that those who carry an excess would die sooner than those who don’t.
Still, we don’t often hear the cost of our extra calories expressed in such stark terms. In the popular media, we’ve typically seen our weight problems discussed as a function of appearance and appeal, and feel the imperative to lose weight in order to be more attractive and more successful.
The medical establishment has been warning about the risks ofobesity and overweight in terms that address their health consequences, but early death is seldom mentioned among these.
Yet Dutch researchers studying Americans found that there’s a lot to lose for those who don’t lose their extra pounds. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the data from the Dutch study were gathered from more than 3,450 subjects between the ages of 30 and 59.
The researchers categorized people according to their body mass index, or BMI. A BMI of 19 to 24 is typically considered healthy, while a BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is clinically obese.
Among those subjects who were overweight but not actually obese, the study showed that 40-year-old female nonsmokers lost 3.3 years of life due to their excess weight.
In this high weight class, the 40-year-old male nonsmokers lost 3.1 years of life expectancy.
For non-smokers who were clinically obese, the news only got worse for women, who lost about seven years of life because of theirobesity, while the men of this size lost just under six years.
That’s six Thanksgivings, six New Year’s Eves, and who knows how many grandchildren born. That’s six Superbowls they’ll miss, six World Series they won’t see.
Not surprisingly, the loss is much greater for overweight smokers. When we add the strain and damage of cigarettes to the body’s burden of obesity, the loss doubles, to around 13 years for both men and women.
Adding both factors causes the worst case scenario for longevity.
That’s 13 birthdays, 13 Independence Day fireworks shows, 13 years of some special child’s school pictures that will be missed. When you think about it in such personal and specific terms, those extra calories suddenly seem so much more costly.
"Obesity and overweight in adulthood are associated with large decreases in life expectancy and increases in early mortality," the the journal reported. "Because of the increasing prevalence of obesity, more efficient prevention and treatment should become high priorities in public health."
But what “prevention and treatment” means depends on who you talk to, and it’s becoming an increasingly controversial issue, with some saying that overweight is an individual problem caused by individual actions, and therefore one that should be dealt with by the people who are personally affected.
But others say that’s a gross oversimplification. Increasingly, public health official and other researchers assert that this is a social problem that deserves all the attention it can get.
While people certainly must take responsibility for their own eating practices, and families must be responsible for the dietary habits of their children, there’s more to it than that.
In our society, we are faced with what some experts refer to as our “toxic environment,” and they’re not talking about chemical waste; they’re talking about the ubiquity of burgers, about soda machines in schools, about giant-sized snacks devoid of nutritional value.
They’re concerned about millions spent promoting essentially worthless foods, while education and promotion of good nutritional options languishes in unfunded media obscurity.
We face tremendous pressure to eat often and eat poorly, and there are consequences to that, for everyone, even those who are not personally overweight. American’s weight-related health expenses now exceed $130 billion per year, and that gets spread across everyone’s health costs.
And that says nothing of the incalculable economic cost to businesses and communities in lost human time and potential.
And it says nothing of the immeasurable loss to families and individuals, of those moments on birthdays and holidays, of those stories and photographs that end up missing someone, lost early to a preventable weight problem.
Obese American males lose and average of six years of life expectancy to their excess weight. Six birthdays, six family Christmases, six Super Bowl Sundays. Thinking about the consequences ofobesity in such personal and specific terms, can really drive home the cost of those extra calories.