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As weight climbs, so do related deaths from heart disease, diabetes and cancer, researchers say

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- People who are severely obese may lose as many as 14 years off their life, a new study suggests.

U.S. researchers pooled data from 20 previous studies and found that a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 -- considered severe obesity -- raises the odds of dying early from heart disease, cancer and diabetes compared to people of normal weight.

"We found that the death rates in severely obese adults were about 2.5 times higher than in adults in the normal weight range," said lead investigator Cari Kitahara, a research fellow at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Severe obesity accounts for an excess 509 deaths per 100,000 men each year, and 382 excess deaths per 100,000 women, she said.

Whether losing weight would improve lifespan isn't clear, Kitahara said. But not becoming obese in the first place will extend your life, she added.

Kitahara's team calculated that, compared with normal-weight people, severely obese people were cutting their lives short by 6.5 to 13.7 years. That's similar to the toll taken by smoking, she said.

BMI is a calculation of body fat based on height and weight. As an example, if you stand 5 feet 4 inches tall and weigh 235 pounds, your BMI is 40, which is considered severely obese. Similarly, if you're 280 pounds and 5-feet-10, your BMI is 40. By comparison, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a healthy weight.

About 6 percent of U.S. adults are severely obese, according to background information in the report, published online July 8 in PLOS Medicine.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn., said the study findings underscore existing concerns.

"We have long had clear and compelling evidence that obesity is related to the major chronic diseases that plague modern societies: heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia and more," Katz said.

Severe obesity is more dangerous than lesser degrees of obesity, and rates of severe obesity are rising steeply, he added. "We also have data to show that the death toll of obesity is rising," he said.

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