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Obesity May Stall Trend of Increasing Longevity

At least two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, including about one-third who are obese.

Obesity significantly increases the risk of a host of serious health problems, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.


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The researchers calculated how much longer Americans would be living if obesity did not exist, using data from a large federal assessment of obesity rates and estimates of the health impact of obesity by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and the National Center for Health Statistics.

If obesity were magically eliminated, the overall life span would be at least one-third to three-quarters of a year longer, they found.

Minorities would be most affected because they are more prone to obesity and tend to get lower-quality health care, the researchers found.

"Unless we do something, today's younger generation will, for the first time in the modern era, experience shorter and less healthy lives than their parents," Olshansky said.

Ironically, that could ease the pressure on the Social Security system, the researchers said.

"The U.S. population may be inadvertently saving Social Security by becoming more obese," they wrote, "but the price to be paid by obese people themselves and the economy is already high enough to justify considerably increased spending on public health interventions aimed at reducing the incidence and severity of obesity."

In an accompanying editorial, demographer Samuel H. Preston of the University of Pennsylvania said that although some of the study's assumptions may be "excessively gloomy," he agreed that the "rising prevalence and severity of obesity are capable of offsetting the array of positive influences on longevity."


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