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Excess weight raises a variety of health risks, including the likelihood of dying prematurely.

Does that apply equally to men and women?

This study

Researchers analyzed data from 189 studies involving almost 4 million people who were nonsmokers, did not have a chronic disease and were 20 to 90 years old at the start. Over a span of about 14 years, 385,879 of the participants died. Based on their body mass index (BMI), those who were overweight or obese were more likely than normal-weight people to have died prematurely — that is, before age 70 — with a steep and steady increase in risk as BMI increased.

The effect was evident among people who were considered overweight as well as those who were obese. And the chance of dying prematurely was three times greater for men who were obese than forobese women. According to the researchers, data from the study suggest that if overweight and obese people had normal BMI levels, 1 in 5 premature deaths in North America could be avoided.

Who may be affected

People who are overweight or obese. The higher someone’s BMI — which is an estimate of body fat calculated from the person’s height and weight — the greater the chance of developing medical problems. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9; overweight starts at 25 and obesity at 30. Today, 70 percent of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese.

Caveats

The analysis did not explain why the death rate was so much greater for men. Only BMI was used to measure obesity; fat distribution on the body, such as waist size, which is known to have an effect on health, was not considered.

Find this study

Online July 13 in the Lancet (thelancet.com; click “Research” under “Online First”)

Learn more

Calculate your BMI at nhlbi.nih.gov/health (search for “BMI”). Learn about the risks of being overweight at niddk.nih.gov/health (search for “health risks”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.