The link between overweight and premature death is confirmed

The conclusion of the largest study ever conducted on the impact of body weight on health is unequivocal: overweight and obesity significantly reduce life expectancy and now represent the second leading cause of premature death, just behind tobacco.

The phenomenal increase in body weight in Western countries is without doubt one of the most remarkable transformations to have affected society in the last 50 years in terms of health. A very large number of studies have clearly shown that this unprecedented increase in body weight has several negative impacts on health. Excess fat is an important risk factor for several diseases, in particular cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer, not to mention the ravages imposed by excess weight on the body’s framework (joints, muscles , bone).

The file of 4 million people scrutinized

According to several experts, this unprecedented rise in overweight and obesity represents a catastrophic situation that risks causing the greatest epidemic of chronic diseases in all of human history and representing a major cause of premature death.

To quantify the impact of overweight on the risk of premature death (before age 70), a collaboration of more than 500 scientists from 32 different countries looked at the results of 189 studies carried out on the link between the index body mass (BMI) and mortality.

In total, the medical records of nearly four million healthy, never-smokers in their lives have been scrutinized by scientists, making this by far the largest study on the subject. The exclusion of smokers and ex-smokers, as well as people who developed a disease during the first five years of the study, also makes it possible to minimize the impact of factors other than overweight on mortality. This is really a study of very high quality, which finally makes it possible to determine with precision the impact of overweight on the risk of death.

Men and women affected

And this impact is major: compared to people with a normal BMI (between 22.5 and 25), each five-point increase in BMI is associated with a 39% increase in the risk of premature death. This increase is particularly significant in men (+51% risk), but is also observed in women (+30%). It is important to note that these increases in risk affect both obese people (BMI > 30) and people who are overweight (BMI > 25), who are at higher risk of dying prematurely, in particular as a result of cardiovascular illnesses. Overall, the authors estimate that 14% of premature deaths, or 1 in 7, could be avoided if the population maintained a healthy weight.

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Today’s youth on the trouble highway

These results are all the more worrying as the situation is likely to worsen over the next few years due to the significant increase in overweight among young people. It is clearly established that an overweight child is at very high risk of obesity in adulthood and therefore risks seeing his life expectancy decrease.

Not to mention that the problems associated with being overweight often manifest themselves long before reaching adulthood: several studies have in fact shown that children and adolescents who are overweight suffer from hypertension, excess triglycerides in the blood and liver, and hyperglycemia, a set of abnormalities that skyrocket the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Beyond the reduced life expectancy, it is above all the quality of life that is drastically affected by these weight problems.

The creation of an “anti-obesity” family environment, where high-calorie industrial foods (soft drinks, snacks, snacks) are replaced by healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, and where time spent on various screens (television, video games, tablet and phone) is replaced by physical activity, should be a priority for anyone concerned about the health of their child.

Studies mentioned

  • Lloyd Jones DM. Slowing progress in cardiovascular mortality rates: You reap what you sow. JAMA, published online June 29, 2016.
  • The Global BMI Mortality Collaboration. Body-mass index and all-cause mortality: individual participant-data meta-analysis of 239 prospective studies in four continents. Lancet, published online July 13, 2016.
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