Excess Weight, Shorter Life?

Can obesity shorten your life expectancy? It seems so, according to researchers from McGill University, who have completed a study showing that obesity can subtract up to eight years from an individual’s life.

And when it comes to quality of life, being overweight or obese can steal up to 20 years of healthy living. That’s because excess weight is linked to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which can diminish the quality of life.

“That’s not surprising,”  says Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care.  “Our food choices can impact the way we look and feel.”

The research project studied health data from 2003 to 2010 and analyzed the health risks of about 4,000 people. The findings were published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, a medical journal.

Here are the results:

  • Very obese: risk of losing as many as 8 years of life.
  • Obese:  risk of losing up to 6 years of life.
  • Overweight: risk of cutting life expectancy by up to three years.
  • The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement that uses weight and height to calculate the level fat for men and women.  A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight, according to the National Institutes of Health.  You are considered underweight if your BMI is less than 18.5. But on other end of the scale, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or greater is a sign of obesity.

    “The pattern is clear – the more an individual weighs and the younger their age, the greater the effect on their health. In terms of life-expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking,” said lead author Dr. Steven Grover, a clinical epidemiologist at McGill University Health Centre and a Professor of Medicine at McGill University.

    “Excess bodyweight was positively associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The effect of excess weight on years of life lost was greatest for young individuals and decreased with increasing age,” according to the study.

    But there’s hope for those who plan to shed even modest amounts of weight, Ms. Clark-Reyes says.

    “Losing as little as 10 percent of excess body weight seems to have health benefits,” she says.

    For example, if you are carrying 100 pounds of excess weight, you’ll begin to see the health benefits when you lose 10 percent or 10 pounds.

    “That’s a realistic start,” she says.

    Nutrition Tips

    As a registered dietitian, Ms. Clark-Reyes offers these tips for those looking to improve their diet with better nutrition:

  • Avoid processed foods. That includes lunch meats, baked goods, candy and chips. “Fruit rollups and gummy candies are not fruits; potato chips are not substitutes for potatoes,” Ms. Clark-Reyes says.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The nutrients (antioxidants, phytochemicals) in fruits and vegetables have anti-aging properties that can protect your body from a variety of ailments.
  • Skip sugar and foods that cause inflammation. “It’s basically like toxins in your body,” Ms. Clark-Reyes says. Poor diets, including those filled sugar and other inflammatory foods, have been linked to joint pain, heart disease and clogged arteries.
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