WASHINGTON – Obesity has started to erode the gains Americans have made in extending their life spans and will stall the long trend toward increasing longevity unless the nation takes aggressive steps to slim down, researchers said today.
Illnesses caused by obesity are already shortening the average U.S. life by at least four to nine months – greater than the impact of car crashes, homicides and suicides combined – a first-of-its kind analysis has determined.
Within 50 years, if the trend is not reversed, obesity will cut the average lifespan by at least two to five years, which would exceed the effects of all cancers, the researchers estimated. That could overtake all gains from healthier lifestyles and medical advances and cause longevity to plateau or perhaps decline, they projected.
Except for major catastrophes such as famines, wars and pandemics, the life span of the average American has been increasing steadily for the past two centuries, reaching an all-time high of 77.6 years in 2003, the most recent data shows.
“The take-home message is that obesity clearly needs to be considered in an entirely new light – it is far more dangerous than we ever thought,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois demographer who led the study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.