Being Overweight May Shorten Life; Effects May Be as Bad as Smoking

Jun 14, 2009 by

Being Overweight May Shorten Life; Effects May Be as Bad as Smoking

Smoking has already emerged has one of the major killers in the world today. Evidence, though, is growing that excess body weight is very harmful to health, too.

And research highlighted in the following article suggests that just being overweight can shorten one’s life significantly, with the effects perhaps being as bad as smoking. So, it’s not just obesity which kills, but even excess weight of a smaller degree.

Just Being Overweight Shortens Life: Effects of Excess Weight may Match Smoking

by Reuben Chow

A study conducted in Sweden spanning almost four decades has suggested that overweight persons, and not just those who were obese, may also be subjected to increased risk of premature death. It also suggested that the adverse effects of excess weight on mortality may be as significant as smoking cigarettes.

Details and Findings of Study

Published in the British Medical Journal, the study had been conducted using data from Sweden’s military service conscription register, census as well as cause of death register. In all, after excluding certain persons due to incomplete data, 45,920 men were tracked for a period of 38 years; the average age of the men at the start of the study was 18.7 years. During the period, 2,897 of the men passed on.

Body Mass Index and Mortality

Having accounted for age, socioeconomic status, muscle strength and smoking, the researchers found that men who were overweight (body mass index, or BMI, from 25.0 to 29.9) during adolescence at the point they joined the Swedish military in 1969 and 1970 had a 33% higher rate of mortality during the study period, as compared with their counterparts in the normal weight range (BMI from 18.5 to 24.9). Obese men (BMI of 30 or more) had even higher risk – a whopping 114% elevated likelihood of death during the period. Similar relative estimates were obtained when smokers and non-smokers were analyzed separately. Figures also did not differ by much when smoking was not adjusted for.

Underweight men (BMI less than 18.5) did okay, although those who were extremely underweight (BMI less than 17) had 33% increased mortality, too, similar to overweight men.

Smoking and Mortality

The study subjects had declared their smoking habits when they attended mandatory military conscription tests back in 1969 and 1970. Using this information, and after adjusting for age, socioeconomic status, muscular strength and BMI, the study team also found that, compared with their non-smoking counterparts, light smokers (1 to 10 sticks of cigarettes per day) experienced 54% increased rate of mortality during the period. Not surprisingly, heavy smokers (more than 10 sticks of cigarettes each day) fared worse, suffering heightened mortality rate of 111%. Again, the figures were similar even when BMI was not adjusted for. Although the magnitude of risk increase differed across BMI categories, they featured in the same direction.

Combined Effects of Smoking and Weight

Using normal-weight non-smokers as the reference group, the relative risks of mortality of almost all the other groups were large (at least 31% higher) and highly significant. Only two groups were spared – moderately underweight non-smokers and extremely underweight non-smokers. Overweight heavy smokers experienced heightened risk of 155%, while obese heavy smokers suffered the worst, having a risk close to 5 times (4.74) that of normal weight non-smokers.

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