Risk of Death for Obese May Be Declining
New studies report drops in cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking among obese people
April 19, 2005 - Obesity is a risk factor for death, but the risk appears to
be much lower than it was just a few decades ago, according to new research
from the CDC.
Two new studies offer compelling evidence that obese people in the U.S.
today are healthier than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.
The reasons? CDC researchers who spoke to WebMD credited a combination of
medical intervention and public health intervention. Medical intervention
includes the increased use of drugs to control blood pressure and cholesterol;
public health intervention includes the campaign that convinced millions of
Americans to stop smoking.
"This tells us that certain aspects of public health efforts to improve
cardiovascular disease risk factors are getting through to obese people as well
as lean people," CDC epidemiologist Edward W. Gregg, PhD, tells WebMD.
The two studies are published in the April 20 issue of The Journal of
the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The findings come at a time when more Americans than ever are obese, meaning
that they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. Someone who is 5 feet
5 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds or more would be considered obese, as would
a 5-foot-8-inch person who weighed 200 pounds or more.
In one of the two studies, researchers reported that both underweight (BMI
of less than 18.5) and obese people were at an increased risk of death compared
with people of normal weight. But the obesity-related risk was lower than other
studies have indicated.
Using data from a large ongoing study of nutrition and health trends in the
U.S., Katherine M. Flegal, PhD, and CDC colleagues estimated that obesity was
associated with about 112,000 excess deaths in the year 2000. Other
researchers, reporting earlier this year, put the figure at about 400,000.
Surprisingly, no increased risk of death was seen among people who qualified
as overweight but not obese -- those who had a BMI of between 25 and 29.9 and
are at increased risk of obesity. That would mean weighing between 150 and 175
pounds if you are 5 feet 5 inches tall, and between 165 and 200 pounds if your
height is 5 feet 8 inches.
CDC senior epidemiologist David Williamson, PhD, who worked on the study,
says the findings can be considered good news for people with otherwise healthy
lifestyles who can't seem to lose those extra few pounds.
"If you are overweight and your parents lived to their 80s or 90s and
you have no strong risk factors for heart disease or diabetes, it may be that
you can shift your energy and emphasis from weight loss to ensuring that you
are physically active every day and eating a healthy diet," he tells