December 3, 2009 in Nation/World

Obesity rates reversing life expectancy increase

Jeannine Stein Los Angeles Times

By the numbers

0.31 years: Increased life expectancy for an American 18-year-old because of declines in smoking over the past 15 years

1.02 years: Decline in life expectancy due to growing body mass index rates

A new study predicts that as smoking rates decline and life expectancy increases, obesity figures will rise, ultimately contributing to a poorer quality of life.

The New England Journal of Medicine study released Wednesday looked at previous health trends culled from national health surveys to forecast life expectancy and quality of life for a typical 18-year-old from 2005 through 2020.

Past declines in smoking over the last 15 years would give that 18-year-old an increased life expectancy of 0.31 years. However, growing body mass index rates would also mean that the teenager would have a reduced life expectancy of 1.02 years, giving a net life expectancy reduction of 0.71 years.

Researchers from Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the National Bureau of Economic Research point out that though life expectancy will increase in the future due to factors such as overall health care improvements, better nutrition and education, rising obesity rates may eventually slow that progression.

“This is a bit of a wake-up call,” said Dr. Allison Rosen, assistant professor of internal medicine and health management policy at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study. “We have always attributed so many of our health problems to smoking, and this emphasizes that we’re getting health improvements from declines in smoking. But changes in the rates of obesity are starting to outweigh the declines in smoking.”

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