One in Five American Deaths Now Associated with Obesity

By Dr. Mercola

A new report reveals staggering statistics about the extent to which the obesity epidemic is robbing Americans of their health and longevity. Columbia University and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examined the real impact of obesity on death rates.1

The study found that nearly one in five US deaths is associated with obesity, which is more than three times higher than previous estimates.

The effect varies somewhat by your gender, race and age. The younger you are, the greater obesity’s influence on your mortality. And contrary to a previous study2, obesity is not protective if you’re elderly. The Columbia study found the following percentage of deaths associated with high BMI (body mass index):

  • Black women: 26.8 percent of deaths were associated with a BMI of 25 or above (overweight or obesity)
  • White women: 21.7 percent
  • White men: 15.6 percent
  • Black men: 5 percent

The authors wrote:

“We believe that it is imperative for the US public and those who construct policy for that public to recognize that population health and more than a century of steady gains in life expectancy are being jeopardized by the obesity epidemic. Indeed, evidence has already implicated high rates of obesity as a significant contributor to the United States’ relatively low life expectancy among high-income countries.”

But It May Be Even Worse…

Obesity rates could be much worse than these studies suggest, for a couple of reasons. First, the number of Americans who are overweight or obese increases every year and is already considerably higher today than it was in 2006, the final year for data used in the Columbia University study.3

Secondly and more importantly, the study uses BMI to gauge obesity, which is a seriously flawed index  that doesn’t take into account percentage body fat, or the distribution of that fat.

When those variables are factored in, the number of people who meet the criteria for obesity is MUCH higher—possibly even twice as high! Even without adjusting for body fat, if obesity trends are accurate, societal impacts will be far worse by 2030. Rates of “extreme obesity” (people with a BMI above 40) have risen by 350 percent over the past few years.4

As far as simple indicators go, waist size is a better predictor of heart disease risk than body weight or BMI. Determining your waist size is easy. With a tape measure, figure the distance around the smallest area of your abdomen below your rib cage and above your belly button. If you’re not sure if you have a healthy waist circumference, a general guide is:

  • For men, between 37 and 40 inches is overweight and more than 40 inches is obese
  • For women, 31.5-34.6 inches is overweight and more than 34.6 inches is obese

Obesity as a Harbinger of Death

Unfortunately, obesity statistics are a bit tricky to determine because obesity itself is never listed as the cause of death. Instead, the complications of obesity, such as heart disease or diabetes, are blamed for a person’s death. If you are obese, your risk for a number of serious health problems multiplies. Eight obesity-related diseases account for a staggering 75 percent of healthcare costs in the US. These diseases include:

Type 2 diabetes Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Hypertension Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Lipid problems Cancer (especially breast, endometrial, colon, gallbladder, prostate and kidney5)
Heart disease Dementia

The four diseases in the left column are associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a common factor in obesity. However, several other diseases fall within this category as well, which are listed on the right. And many more could be added to that list. According to the Surgeon General, in addition to the above, obesity increases your risk for asthma, sleep disorders (including sleep apnea), depression, pregnancy complications, and poor surgical outcomes.

While obesity is associated with metabolic syndrome and the diseases mentioned above, it is not their cause; it is simply a marker. The common link among them is metabolic dysfunction, and excessive sugar/fructose consumption is a primary driver. Please realize that you can have metabolic dysfunction and be prone to “obesity-related diseases,” even if your body weight is fine—you can’t rely on your BMI alone, as it won’t give you the complete picture.

Societal Forces Promote Rampant Metabolic Dysfunction

Fault Lines:
Fast food, Fat profits: Obesity in America


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