Obesity is much more deadly than has been apparent from previous estimates, accounting for 18% of deaths among black and white Americans ages 40 to 85, according to a study.
This finding challenges estimates that put the portion at about 5%, researchers said.
“Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe,” Ryan Masters, PhD, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at Columbia Universitys Mailman School of Public Health, said in a news release.
“We expect that obesity will be responsible for an increasing share of deaths in the United States and perhaps even lead to declines in U.S. life expectancy.”
The study, published Aug. 15 on the website of the American Journal of Public Health, is described as the first to account for differences in age, birth cohort, sex and race in analyzing Americans risk for death from obesity. Past research in this area lumped together all Americans, but obesity prevalence and its effect on mortality differ substantially based on your race or ethnicity, how old you are and when you were born, Masters said. Its important for policymakers to understand that different groups experience obesity in different ways.
The researchers analyzed 19 waves of the National Health Interview Survey linked to individual mortality records in the National Death Index for the years 1986 to 2006, when the most recent data are available. They focused on ages 40 to 85 to exclude accidental deaths, homicides and congenital conditions that are the leading causes of death for younger people.
In the groups studied, black women had the highest risk of dying from obesity or being overweight at 27%, followed by white women at 21%. Obesity in black women is nearly twice that of white women.
White men fared better, at 15%, and the lowest risk for dying from being obese was 5%, for black men. While white men and black men have similar rates of obesity, the effect of obesity on mortality is lower in black men because it is “crowded out” by other risk factors, from high rates of cigarette smoking to challenging socioeconomic conditions, the researchers said.
There were insufficient data to make estimates for Asians, Hispanics and other groups due to the highly stratified nature of the methodology.
In sum, by using a new, more rigorous approach, the research shows that obesity is far more consequential than previously recognized, that the impact of the epidemic is only beginning to be felt and that some population groups are affected much more powerfully than others.
Study abstract: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301379.