Obesity takes years off life.




Annals of Internal Medicine

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Obesity, Weight Loss
Professional Data: Obesity, Weight Loss


Medically speaking, not all overweight people are obese. Obesity is defined as weight that exceeds 15 percent of normal weight for height and body type. "Morbid" obesity exceeds 20 percent of optimum weight. The long-term health implications are well known, in fact, obesity is considered an outright disease. An obese person is at high risk for a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, varicose veins, psychological stress, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Body function influences body weight in other ways. Obesity can be caused by metabolic disorders of the endocrine system. The pituitary, the thyroid, and the adrenal glands all play a role in regulating metabolism. Under activity of the thyroid and pituitary can disrupt metabolic function and contribute to obesity. A disease of the adrenal glands called "Cushing's Syndrome," where the adrenals overproduce certain hormones, is another cause of obesity. High blood sugar (glucose), tissue resistance to the blood sugar-lowering effects of insulin, and impaired glucose tolerance—the characteristics of diabetes—all favor excess body fat, which in turn depresses the basal metabolic rate.

Recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a new study analyzed the decreases in life span linked to both overweight and obesity in individuals over the age of 40. Over 3,400 participants from the Framingham Heart Study were recruited, aged 30 to 49 years. After measuring for mortality rates, body mass index, and smoking status, the results showed large decreases in life expectancy in those who were overweight or obese. Non-smoking, overweight women lost 3.3 years and men lost 3.1 years. Non-smoking obese men and women lost 7.1 and 5.8 years, respectively. Women who were obese and smokers lost an average of 13.3 years and in the same category, men lost 13.7 years. The authors of this study concluded that these decreases in life expectancy are large due to overweight and obesity and are similar to those of smoking.1


1. Peeters A, et al. Obesity in Adulthood and Its Consequences for Life Expectancy: A Life-Table Analysis. Ann Inter Med. Jan 2003;138:24-32.